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Are Your Wet Wipes Causing Watery Waste Havoc?

Woman cleaning her hands with a tissue isolated on a white background Are you or your family members in the habit of using wet wipes for personal hygiene after going to the toilet? This could be causing big problems for your home plumbing as well as to the sewer pipes that carry waste to the outside.

The word “wipes” has led to this huge problem

Once reserved for babies, now adults and children are using wipes in their millions - leading to massive sewer problems in the western world. Experts say that mis labeling is to blame. Commonly known as flushable wipes, unfortunately this label of “flushable” is far from true. Wet wipes are designed to stay wet and of course these non woven cloths do just that, staying in their original format and getting stuck in pipes and sewer machinery. They create massive, extensive and expensive clogs in main centres. Wipes make up a large part of the lives of modern consumers and are used for household cleaning, make up removal, hand sanitization, sunscreen application and more. The wipes market has been growing at 6 to 7% annually for the past ten years and is predicted to continue in the same vein for years to come.

Why we need to start flushing ONLY the 3 Ps

These are Pee, Poop and toilet Paper...
  • Parents using baby wipes are in the habit of placing these along with soiled diapers straight into a special pail and not down the toilet.
  • When the use of wipes moved on to other members of the family, or to those without a baby in the house, there was no special pail available in the bathroom, and they were disposed of down the toilet. They were labeled flushable so their users thought nothing of this.
  • Flushable wipes are too thick and too strong for sewer systems so are totally unsuitable to flush down the toilet.

How to prevent the flushing of wipes

  • The name wipes needs to change because they give the wrong impression. How is it that they are allowed to print “flushable” and “sewer/septic safe” on their packages? Some of them are even printing “biodegradable.” In their terms, yes they are biodegradable, but not for another 1,000 years.
  • It is long past the time when environmental and other agencies need to work with the wipes industry to create products that are safe for sewer systems. Some companies are already working on flushable wipes that will fall apart in water - even more so than some types of toilet paper. They lose strength quickly enabling them to break down.
  • A secondary problem with flushable wipes is that they are similar in function and appearance to wipe products that are especially designed to be disposed of in the trash rather than the toilet. For example, baby wipes or facial wipes are not even marketed as flushable. But many consumers who have grown used to flushable wipes will often simply assume that, because non-flushable wipes look similar, they can be flushed.

Some of the tales of wet wipes

A 2012 staff report by California’s Orange County Sanitation District noted that “field observations have found [flushable wipes] to be a cause of back-ups within the sewer system leading to sanitary sewer overflows, clogs at lift stations, and disruption within the treatment plant.” The report also summarized the results of the district’s flushability test: “After 24 hours the wipe remained intact and recognizable.” In response to complaints about the wipes, Kimberly-Clark, the company manufacturing brands Cottonelle and Huggies, posted a video to show how flushable wipes break down once flushed. However, even in their own testing lab (which of course does not take into account the grime and obstructions found in real-world sewage systems) the wipes began to disintegrate only after 35 minutes of constant agitation. Many may not realise that hair cleaned from hair brushes can not be flushed nor can paper towels. It is important to understand that if a product is advertised as being extra-absorbent, it will not flush.

So what can we do for the future?

From the points raised above, it becomes obvious that it is best to avoid disposable wipes completely as they will either end up clogging the sewer system or helping to fill up landfill. The more sustainable alternatives are to go back to using regular dissolves-quickly-in-water toilet paper (made of unbleached recycled paper) or a wash cloth that can be rinsed out and regularly added to the next wash in the washing machine. If you really cannot let go of your wipes, do make sure they are correctly disposed of.