It can all be summed up in five simple words: save the drain for rain. By putting into practice that simple message, says council trade waste manager Gordon George, vehicle owners could make an enormous difference to the health of our waterways.
Gordon says the overwhelming majority of people wash their cars and let the soapy water run into the gutter. But anything flowing into gutters ends up in stormwater pipes. And anything in stormwater pipes ends up in streams, rivers or the sea.
Gordon says the country’s native fish and eels are under threat from a cocktail of harmful chemicals: wash water from cleaning cars, oil spills and leaks, concreting wash water, leftover paint and water used to clean paintbrushes and waste pesticides – to name just some. “The only thing that should go into a stormwater drain is rainwater.”
He recommends car owners wash their vehicles on the front lawn or on gravel and use detergent sparingly before hosing off with water. Alternatively, they can use a car wash, usually found at petrol stations, where wash water is contained on a washpad and flows into the sewerage system.
“That applies equally to car wash fundraisers which are frequently held in parking areas where the water still flows into the gutter. Sadly, I feel like the Grinch telling people – however well-meaning – that what they’re doing is illegal and harmful. To the point, in fact, that we are seriously considering buying and making available for hire a pump and associated kit so charities can do the right thing the right way.”
Gordon says people, perhaps understandably, fail to see that their small disposal of wash water or other contaminants has a powerful cumulative effect. The ultimate price could be the disappearance within a generation of all native species from the region’s waterways. “That’s a terrible price to pay to avoid a little inconvenience.”
And for anyone thinking of easing their conscience by using “green” detergents, Gordon has another simple message: “Don’t bother, there’s no such thing as environmentally friendly detergents. They all starve aquatic life of oxygen – quite apart from being pollutants.”