Double Down on Customer Education for 2023

Folks in your area need to know more about septic system maintenance and you’re the best person to spread the word.

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It’s time to recover from the New Year’s Eve party hangover, put away the party favors, and get back to the serious business of pumping wastewater.

But perhaps as you were sipping champagne before that big, glittery ball dropped in Times Square, gathered with friends and family, and commenced to make resolutions for a better 2023. You’ve heard all the common ones; I asked the Googleator to list the top New Year’s resolutions from one year ago, and this is what the internet told me:

1.     Lose weight

2.     Eat healthier or change diet

3.     Get fitter and take more exercise

4.     Spend more time with family or friends

5.     Be more aware and take care of mental health

6.     Sort your finances and cut back spending

7.     Travel more

8.     Take up a new hobby, sport or other interest

         To me, this list seems problematic for hardworking vacuum truck drivers or others I know in the wastewater industry. Dietary changes are a great goal but difficult when you’re grabbing meals on the go between service calls and trips to the disposal site. Spending more time with family and friends is tough when you’re working sunup to sundown or answering emergency calls on the weekends.

         Travel more? Unfortunately, the closest thing many pumpers I know get to a vacation is when a customer digs up his own lid before an appointment. And hobbies for pumpers; that’s when they stay late at the shop to fabricate a new tool or detail the wheels on their favorite rig.

         Seriously, all of these top New Year’s resolutions are worthy; and working to get yourself in better shape, have a healthy frame of mind and spending more time with your loved ones is no joke. We should be striving to do these things every day. Life is short and you have to balance the tremendous effort you put into building a pumping business with your responsibility to stay healthy and be a good mom or dad, son or daughter, and citizen of the world.


         What would you say if I shared a New Year’s resolution you could easily follow through on while you work, one that would benefit your customers, your community and your industry at the same time? It’s also a resolution that wouldn’t cost any money or great personal sacrifice … and it would certainly improve your mental health on a daily basis.

         This is too good to be true, you say? It is true, and I’ll be first in line to make the pledge:

         For 2023, I resolve to be a better septic educator! There you have it, and here’s how to make it happen:

Tell every customer how to keep their systems happy and healthy.

         The St. Lawrence County Health Department in New York recently released guidelines for the best care of septic systems, and you could hang onto these tips as a tip sheet to hand out to your customers. These rules seem basic to a seasoned wastewater professional, but imagine how many of your customers are calling a pumper for the first time. Thousands upon thousands of homeowners move from carefree living with a municipal sewer to rural homes using decentralized wastewater systems. Keep that in mind and assume you are always talking to that uninitiated homeowner.

Here are the top 10 septic system rules: 

-Pump out the septic tank every 2-3 years (or at an interval recommended by the pumper)

-Keep a record of pumping, inspections, maintenance and repairs

-Map out the septic tank and components

-Don’t drive or park heavy equipment over the septic system

-Don’t build structures over the absorption field

-Don’t flush strong chemicals down the drains

-Avoid septic tank additives (Some pumpers do recommend beneficial bacteria)

-Avoid garbage disposals or grinders

-Direct drainage away from the septic system

-Plant grass or only shallow-rooted plants over the field

Look out for these signs of system failure:

-Water and sewage are backing up into the home

-Bathtubs, showers and sinks drain very slowly

-You can hear gurgling sounds in the plumbing system

-There is standing water in the drainfield

-There are algal blooms in nearby ponds or lakes

-There are high levels of nitrates and/or coliform bacteria in water wells

Wipe out the wipes!

         So-called “flushable wipes” have become a clogging disaster not just across the U.S. and Canada, but worldwide, and as an industry we need to continually counter misinformation from manufacturers of the popular wet wipes. Bottom line, tell customers when you encounter baby wipes in their septic system, and drive home the point that wipes are not in fact flushable and should be disposed of in the garbage — if they are used at all.

         The worldwide focus on wipes is no exaggeration. Recently, a new Sydney Water advertising campaign in Australia pointed out that 40% of the 500 tons of non-flushable items found in the city’s wastewater stream were wipes. Blockages in sewage systems cost city residents $14 million a year to clear up.

         You should be sharing the same message as the city of Sydney, halfway around the world. That is to avoid common items that should never be flushed down the toilet, including wipes, tampons, condoms, etc. Sydney officials reported other flushed items, including plastic bags, toothbrushes, diapers, false teeth … and the strangest item found, a disassembled prosthetic leg.

         The rule is simple: Flush bodily waste and toilet paper, and nothing else.

Steer folks to the best toilet paper.

         Speaking of toilet paper, you can make recommendations on the brands and types of toilet paper that break down the best in a septic tank, whether the advice comes from your own experience or from a list recently published by According to the well-known home improvement expert, these are the top brands to roll with in the bathroom, based on user comfort as well as being septic-safe:

Best overall: Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare

Runner-up: Angel Soft

Best bang for the buck: Scott 1000 Sheets Per Roll

Best biodegradable: Scott Rapid-Dissolving

Best recycled: Seventh Generation 100% Recycled Bath Tissue

Best bamboo: Caboo Tree Free TP

Best large roll: Presto! 308-sheet mega roll

Best for RVs/Boats: Thetford Aqua-Soft Toilet Tissue for RV and marine

Best scented: Angel Soft with Fresh Lavender Scent

         Further, the website said that tissue marketed as “ultra-plush” is often not the most septic-safe choice. It suggests users can test how well tissue dissolves by mixing a few sheets in a container of water and observing. Also avoid papers that are highly chemically treated as they may impact healthy bacterial action in the tank. Stick to one- and two-ply papers, recycled papers and less-plush papers in general for use in septic tanks.

Promote tank security to keep everyone’s backyard safe.

         The long litany of preventable deaths due to unsecured or deteriorating septic tanks continued in 2022, with one tragic case involving an 18-month-old Florida boy who fell into a septic tank opening covered by a deteriorated piece of plywood and drowned. It is important to stress to customers that they have their tanks inspected and repaired as needed to make sure they are safe. Mike Jones, of Duck Duck Rooter in Jacksonville, Florida, knew that. When this fatality occurred in his area, he spoke up in a First Coast News TV report.

         “It’s a tragedy and our prayers go out to the family. … You don’t never want to hear this kind of news,” Jones said at the time. “A lot of times they cover them temporarily with a piece of plywood or a piece of steel, and then the saturation and corrosion from it will deteriorate. We’ve had adults fall in, people riding lawn mowers fall in.”

         Jones showed photos of makeshift septic tank covers he’s seen over the years and shared serious advice with property owners to avoid such tragedies.

         “We ask everyone who’s on a septic system to be familiar with your septic system and take care of all the things that need to be. The cost of taking care of and fixing these things is better than losing a life,” Jones concluded.

         Our thanks go out to Jones for sharing this important message. Everyone in the pumping business can do the same in their hometowns, reaching out to media outlets to talk about septic system maintenance. And just as important, spread the word about tank safety to each of your customers, at the time of service, on your website or through mailers promoting your company.


       I obviously couldn’t cover every topic about customer education in one New Year’s column. Do you have anything to add to the list? Drop me a line at and let me know how you spread the good word about septic system maintenance. I’ll create a list of ideas to share with readers.


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