Are Flushable Wipes Actually Flushable?Cat McCarthy
Flushed Away…The Flushable Wipes Conspiracy
No-one would really argue that we now live in a throwaway society, where convenience items rule our purchase list. Think disposable nappies rather than terry towelling cloths, coffee pods over instant coffee, or yoghurt pouches instead of needing a bowl and a spoon. We are all time-poor and grasp on to anything that will give us a little less burden in our days.
Consumers do however have a conscience; most of us desire ‘greener’ options for our convenience products to make us feel better about our high, and often wasteful, consumption habits. ‘Biodegradable’, ‘Eco-friendly’ or ‘Compostable’ are words which tend to grab our attention and are often the preferable option when purchasing disposable items. One such group of items that have been introduced to this market is all things ‘flushable’.
When we spend our hard-earned money, we want to know that our purchase does what it says on the tin. But there is one problem with the flushable wipe that really blows me away… they aren’t flushable. Well yes, they are physically flushable, but in the same way that everything that fits through the orifice of your toilet bowl is… a wedding ring, a plastic bag, a toothbrush, anything your toddler puts in there, is flushable. But just because something can be flushed, doesn’t mean it should be.
The leading manufacturers of flushable wipes (I’m looking at you Kleenex and Sorbent) are deceiving us all when they use this term. They know a lot of people are on to it as well; Kleenex state on their website “Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths are designed to deliver a cleaner, shower fresh feeling. Able to be flushed in the toilet, they are easy to use and suitable for the whole family’s hygiene. Flush a maximum of two wipes at a time”. So while they say you can flush them, they don’t actually promise its eco-friendly, or even the right thing to do.
Sewers, we have a problem…
What’s the big deal with flushing wipes anyway you may ask? What problem could they possibly cause? Big problems. Big UGLY problems. Wet wipes are the leading cause of an epidemic facing pipes all over the world, and they have been termed ‘Fatbergs’. Fatbergs are essentially a conglomeration of fats and wipes in a drainage system. They are costing millions and millions of dollars’ worth of blockages in our pipes. These blockages can become so severe they can potentially cause raw sewage to start flooding our streets, or worse, our homes. If your drains become clogged, it will cost you about $200-$350 per hour for the hire of a sewer cleaning machine/drain jetter and a licensed plumber to unblock your drain (this usually takes around 1-3 hours).
One of our plumbers, who is professionally qualified in coming up with absolutely positively correct statistics, hypothesised that 99% of the time, if you have a blocked drain and your home is under 20 years old, the problem will be caused by the flushing of items that should never have been flushed (think tampons, wet wipes and cooking oils). If these blocking agents do make it out of your home drainage system, they will end up in your council sewage plant. They need to be filtered out and then taken to a landfill site. Not as flushable and convenient as they first seemed right?
It’s not just us against the use of flushable wipes
In 2015, Kleenex won a Choice.org Shonky award for their flushable wipes, in order to get the company to clean up their act (so to speak). Choice also carried out an experiment to show exactly how the flushable wipes do not break down in your water pipes, which can be seen in the video here.
The financial costs of the flushable wipe effects ALL of us, whether we use them or not. Notice how expensive our water bill service and drainage charges are getting? There are also the environmental cost factors which are concerning. Choice.org states that wet wipes increase the risk of pipe blockages and overflows to local creeks and rivers. If and when they make it to the sewage plant, they then need to be collected and taken to landfill. Toilet paper on the other hand, disintegrates.
Sydney Water also run brilliantly humorous campaigns on their social media accounts to educate consumers on the repercussions of flushing non-flushable items down the drain. They also put a lot of research into the behaviours of wet wipe consumers, some of which data is represented in the graphic below.
Day in court
In 2016, the ACCC took Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd to court over their false claims of the flushable nature of the wipes, however the case was disappointingly dismissed. These companies continue to make misleading claims about the flushability of their products (and their ability to disintegrate akin to toilet paper) and consumers are still able to buy and flush their products.
Alarmingly, 72% of wet wipe users continue to flush their wipes due to what is written on the packaging, and up to 500 tonnes of wet wipes are removed from city sewer systems every year. 500 tonnes!
How can I prevent a blocked drain at my property?
So what you can do to help stop fatbergs in our pipes, or a blocked drain in your home?
– Stop buying flushable wipes. Or flushable toilet seat covers. Or flushable nappy liners. And if you do buy them, put them in the bin after use.
– ONLY flush human waste products and toilet paper down the toilet.
– Do not put any fats, oils or food scraps down your kitchen sink. It will end up costing you!
Too late? Pipes are blocked from flushing the unflushables? Give us a call on 9931 0905 and we can bring our drain jetter to you and be rid of your pipe blockage for good.