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Mask flushing in bathrooms a ‘critical issue’ on Princeton campus

<h5>A graphic sent by Housing and Real Estate Services urging students not to flush face masks down the toilet.</h5>
A graphic sent by Housing and Real Estate Services urging students not to flush face masks down the toilet.

In recent weeks, University facilities have responded to an unusually high number of clogged toilets in campus bathrooms, specifically caused by the flushing of face masks.

With the subject line “Critical Issue- Mask Flushing in Bathrooms,” a Nov. 11 email was sent out from Housing Operations to all undergraduate students currently living in on-campus dormitories, communicating the issue and detailing the additional strain it has put on facilities employees.

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“Facilities is now averaging 10 calls per day for clogged toilets,” wrote Housing and Real Estate Services in the email. “In most every case the culprit of the back-up has been used face masks that were flushed down the toilets.”

In certain cases, backups from flushed masks have damaged toilets and caused more extensive clogging in main sewer lines leading from buildings.

“These calls often require the closure of bathrooms, hours of work to unclog the toilets and cleanup work by our staff,” said Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss in a written statement to the ‘Prince.’

Hotchkiss also called on students to dispose of their masks properly: “We ask everyone to be respectful of our community and dispose of masks appropriately — in the trash, not the toilet.”

Several of the University’s residential colleges issued reminders to students to put used face masks in the trash — and not flush them — through weekly newsletters and social media pages.

First-year student Kyrah Potter ’25 was made aware of the issue from the Real Estate and Housing email.

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“It was really funny ... I didn’t know or even think people were doing that,” she said.

Potter noted that she found the situation particularly unexpected because it seems so easily avoidable.

“I can’t think of a circumstance where you would need to get rid of our mask specifically in a stall and flush it that couldn’t wait to be thrown out in the bathroom trash can,” Potter said. “It’s not really comparable to something like menstrual products that make sense to be discarded before leaving the stall.”

Alan Gutiérrez ’25 echoed this sentiment.

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“I think it’s so funny but at the same time it’s kinda like what the heck? Like I try to understand the flushing of masks by thinking maybe people think it’s like a hygiene product and should be flushed but even then,” he said. “[T]he trashcan is literally right there like it makes no sense to flush masks but it is funny in a like ‘who would really do that’ kind of way.”

Tess Weinreich is a news and features contributor for the 'Prince.'  She can be reached at tw7353@princeton.edu or at @TessWeinreich on Twitter. 

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