Residents urged to help prevent sewer blockages

Cape Town’s residents hold the key to helping the City beat the scourge of sewer system misuse. Operations to remove inappropriate materials from the sewer system, which causes blockages and overflows, are carried out on a daily basis and cost approximately R170 million per year to address. Materials such as ovens, sheep heads, garden chairs, tires, cloth, car engines, lawnmowers, nappies and rope, among others, should not be dumped in the sewers. Read more below:

The persistent misuse of the sewer system continues in areas across the metro, causing blockages and overflows which place the health of our environment and communities at risk. It also wastes City of Cape Town resources which could rather be used to extend service delivery to our communities. It is also hugely unpleasant and inconvenient, to say the least, for those who have to suffer the effects of a sewer blockage.

The City’s sewer reticulation system operates under tremendous stress because it is being misused, although often unknowingly by residents.

The number of reported blockages and overflows has steadily risen over the previous two years, from an average of 293 per day in the 2015/16 year to an average of 330 per day in the 2017/18 financial year. While the drought and water restrictions have likely contributed to the increase as it has reduced the amount of water that flows through the system, the primary cause remains abuse of the sewerage system.

In terms of the Wastewater and Industrial Effluent By-law, no person may discharge substances into a municipal sewer that will interfere with the free flow of sewage. The sewer reticulation system is only geared to accept toilet waste (urine, faeces, and toilet paper) and sink/basin/bath waste (water, washing liquid and soap).

‘Common causes of blockages include rags, nappies, tampons and sanitary pads, wet wipes, condoms, general litter, building materials and the build-up of cooking fat or oil. In the case of cooking oil or fats, when these substances are poured or flushed down your sink or drain, they harden and build up on the inside of the sewer pipes and act like glue, attracting rags, hair, paper and other debris. The hardness of these blockages can also make them very difficult to clean out. Residents should rather please let grease cool and harden in the pan, and then scrape it along with any food scraps into some newspaper or paper towel and dispose of this in the kitchen bin.

‘There is often an incorrect perception that recurring sewer overflows are due to faulty pipes or the lack of sewer maintenance, but I can assure you that this is hardly ever the case. The City cannot take up this challenge on its own. We call on our residents to help us to overcome this problem. We cannot do it without you,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services; and Energy, Councillor Xanthea Limberg.

Sewer overflows can be caused by stormwater entering the sewerage system, either due to illegal cross-connections on private properties, or missing manhole covers. The extra volume from stormwater flow during rainfall can sometimes exceed the capacity of the pipes and leads to, or exacerbates, overflows.

The City therefore calls on residents to please check that the stormwater from their property does not drain into the sewers, but into the stormwater system, and to take corrective action if necessary.

Missing or stolen manhole covers can also increase the chances of blockages and overflows, as they can act like a magnet for illegal dumping and litter. Residents should please report these missing manhole covers as soon as possible.

The City calls on residents to report sewer overflows, blockages and those who transgress the Wastewater and Industrial Effluent By-law by contacting the call centre on 0860 103 089 or sending an SMS to 31373 (max 160 characters) or a WhatsApp to 063 407 3699. Residents can also send an email to

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