SALT LAKE CITY — A $150,000 funding request before a Utah legislative committee drew some chuckles Monday, but for sewer districts across the state, clogged lines and ruined pumps are a $3 million problem that is no laughing matter.

Hence, the “Toilets Are Not Trash Cans” campaign, aimed at educating flushers to refrain from disposing of wet wipes, feminine products and unused pharmaceuticals in toilets.

“This request is a very crappy request, but it is a very important and necessary one,” said Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, explaining to the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee that the money would be used for an educational campaign to raise awareness of the problem.

Jill Jones, general manager of the Central Davis Sewer District, said the products caused a $10,000 problem with pumps at her facility recently.

To educate flushers, her district has sponsored a poster competition for the last five years and distributes flyers and stickers to multiple entities, including schools, assisted living centers and yes, the Utah Legislature.

The Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, a group of wastewater treatment plants from across the Wasatch Front, wants to take the campaign statewide, especially to help rural districts that may not have the resources to deal with mechanical problems.

“We want the public to think before they flush,” LeLand Myers, executive director of the Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, said in a prepared statement about the campaign.

“Only three things belong in toilets — pee, poo, paper,” Myers said.

Around the country and the globe, wet wipes are causing huge problems. One estimate said that about 80% of clogged sewer systems in Great Britain are due to the wipes, and in the United States, several states are taking action on the problem.

Washington, D.C., passed legislation in 2016 to ban the use of the word “flushable” on wipe labels and New Jersey and California are proposing similar laws, according to the council.

“The flushable wipe industry is a $2.1 billion industry and it’s expected to grow by nearly 67% in the next five years,” Jones said.

“The more people are using these products and flushing them down the drain, the greater the cost will be for wastewater treatment plants to process them and this will likely result in higher utility fees for residents,” she said.

Beyond the wipes that are not biodegradable, the disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals down the toilet is causing environmental problems in Utah and around the globe, Jones said, especially hormone therapy drugs.

Those drugs get into the waterways and are leading to the feminization of male fish and other aquatic species.

According to the council, Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District is conducting a study to determine the effect of hormones on the local fish population. The district has found that as the community in that area continues to grow, the amount of wastewater the district treats increases. The water levels in the streams are staying the same or decreasing, meaning the concentration of chemicals is rising. 

Studies show one of the main culprits in the feminization of male fish is synthetic hormones used in birth control pills.

The committee heard multiple funding requests Monday and will prioritize them for additional consideration.