Unflushables 2030? Mapping Change Points for Intervention

Today sees the end of a two-day workshop “Unflushables 2030?”, co-convened by the Change Points team (Alison Browne and Claire Hoolohan) 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.

Unflushables are a substantial challenge in a world focussed on reducing plastic pollution, improving water quality, reducing water demand and ensuring resilient water supplies. Yet they’re taboo. They cause problems in sewers and waterways as products poorly designed for the lives we live are disposed of in problematic ways in private bathroom spaces.

Not all that much is known about how and why people use and dispose of unflushable products, but a new review article from the University of Manchester reveals the various social, cultural, material and infrastructural complexities of the unflushables challenge.

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 & 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; University of Manchester; University of Sheffield, Walgreens Boots Alliance; and Water UK.

Unflushables 2030? brought together businesses and organisations with concerns in this field to think creatively and collaboratively about ways to reduce the environmental and economic impacts of unflushables.

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.

In addition to extending the Change Points research programme, this workshop emerged from an ongoing collaboration between the University of Manchester, Anglian Water and the Anglian Water Studies Centre, and extends research ongoing within the University of Manchester’s RE3 (Rethinking Resources and Recycling) project. Watch this space for workshop proceedings, a review paper on Unflushables, and further activities.

Unflushables 2030 attendees

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