I’d like to present a case for the unfairly maligned flushable wipe. As a converted wipes enthusiast, I voluntarily represent the flushable variety, which are designed to break down and sink once they enter wastewater systems.
The true culprits in our pumps and pipes are not flushable wipes, but instead their non-flushable counterparts – baby wipes, disinfecting wipes, anti-bacterial wipes, hard surface cleaning wipes, make-up removal wipes, and a cast of others – that some consumers are flushing anyway.
Numerous studies, most notably a 2012 collection study in Maine, have shown that nearly half of the debris that creates unwanted accumulation in wastewater systems arebaby wipes, non-flushable paper (such as away from home paper hand towels), other non-flushable wipes and feminine hygiene products. In fact, a 2016 study by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection showed less than 2 percent of pieces of wipes found in accumulations could be identified as those labeled flushable. In comparison, baby wipes are found intact, usually stretched into ropes and often wrapped around screens or pump impellers.
Unlike other disposable wipes, our flushable friends aren’t the root causes of “Fatbergs.” In fact, they all undergo a flushability assessment involving seven must-pass tests that ensure any wipes marketed as “flushable” are compatible with wastewater systems. Yet despite the fact that flushable wipes haven’t caused the problems in wastewater systems, they stand trial in the media. They are declared the causes of pump clogs, Fatbergs and other wastewater problems.
The court of public opinion should value facts, not unsubstantiated claims. In courts of law, facts won out when the city of Perry, Iowa, sued the makers of flushable wipes over issues with wastewater operations. When it became clear there wasn’t a shred of evidence linking flushable wipes to operating problems, the case was withdrawn and a speedy settlement reached.
I suggest the responsible use of flushable wipes – and disposing of non-flushable wipes in the trash – is actually the solution. I invite all of you to be secure and proud to use flushable wipes with confidence that you are helping, not hurting, the wastewater infrastructure.
Dave Rousse is President of INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry