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Tyndall Manchester

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Tyndall focus on eradicating unflushable waste

7 February 2020

Unflushables are a substantial challenge in a world focused on reducing plastic pollution, improving water quality, reducing water demand and ensuring resilient water supplies. Yet they're taboo.

Workshop team photo

Claire Hoolohan and Alison Browne co-convened a workshop on "Unflushables 2030?" with Anglian Water and more than 30 industry partners to identify ways of eradicating hygiene products disposed of via the toilet reaching sewers and waterways in the next decade.

Not all that much is known about how and why people use and dispose of unflushable products via the toilet, and what might be done to change these practices. A recent review, commissioned by Anglian Water and undertaken by Alison Browne (SEED), Cecilia Alda Vidal (SEED) and Claire Hoolohan (Tyndall Centre, MACE), highlights the various social, cultural, material and infrastructural complexities of the unflushables challenge. Work within the social sciences shows that to address this type of challenge we need to move beyond ‘behaviour change’ approaches that focus on education and awareness raising, and think more creatively and innovatively about how changes to habits and routines happen.

The Unflushables 2030? workshop brought together a huge array of businesses and organisations with concerns in this field to think creatively and collaboratively about different ways to create the environment for change that is essential if we are to reduce the environmental and economic impacts of unflushables. With representatives from Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (AHPMA); Anglian Water; Anglian Centre for Water Studies; Business in the Community (BITC); Consumer Council for Water (CC Water); Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association;  DEFRA; EDANA; Environment Agency; Friends of the Earth; Jacobs; Kimberly Clark; National Federation Women’s Institutes; Natracare; Nicepak; Northumbrian Water; Optical Express; Rockline;  Sainsburys; Suez; Tesco; United Utilities; The University of Manchester; University of Sheffield, Walgreens Boots Alliance; Water UK.

The workshop used the Change Points method to consider how to shift hygiene cultures away from disposable and single use products; and how to move beyond behaviour change (education, awareness, labelling as education) campaigns on flushing products to interventions that address social, cultural and infrastructural dynamics.

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