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More on those "Flushable Non-Flushable" wipes

  • 25 February 2019
  • ckearns

The Myth of Flushable Wipes

By Anthony Santino


Flushable wipes are marketed as safe for toilets and pipes. However, recent evidence and accounts from industry professionals has shown that this isn’t necessarily the case.

Last October, the Charleston Water System in Charleston, S.C. posted graphic tweets of clogs they sent divers to dig up from their sewers. What the pictures show are massive mounds of wipes that were not broken down after being flushed and formed into large masses of blockage.

Charleston isn’t the only city that’s had this issue though; we have it here in New York, too. Back in 2015, the New York Times wrote a piece about the damage flushable wipes cause to city sewer systems. “The dank clusters, graying and impenetrable, gain mass like demon snowballs as they travel. Pumps clog. Gears falter. Then, there is the final blow, wrought by an intake of sewage that overwhelmed a portion of a north Brooklyn treatment plant,” reads an excerpt from the article.

Over the past decade, New York City has spent at least $18 million removing the product from the sewer system by hand, according to current DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza

Chris Petri, the Operations Manag- er at Bay Ridge-based Petri Plumb- ing & Heating has seen firsthand the damage wipes flushed down toilets can cause.

“These things are supposed to break down in water, but really don’t,” said Petri, pointing to the advertising by manufacturers of the wipes. “They end up wadding up into balls and that restricts the flow of the sewer. Then more and more pile on and you [end up] with a stoppage.”

Traditional toilet paper typically breaks down within one to four minutes, while flushable wipes can take up to six hours to disintegrate. Petri said that grease–which is part of the ingredients for some flushable wipes- -is another common cause for clogged pipes.

Retired Department of Environ- mental Protection (DEP) Commiss- ioner Emily Lloyd has spoken in the past about the economic effects such clogs can have on homeowners. She points to how these occurrences can cause higher water rates. “It’s an expense we didn’t have before that now we have,” said Lloyd in the same New York Times article.

One of the most notorious tales of not-so-flushable wipe blunder comes from London, where in 2013 the utility company Thames Water had to remove a 15 ton collection of wipes and other materials..

“With the city sewers, they get caught inside the pumps and inside the motors of the equipment the city uses to move the waste around the city,” said Petri.

Manufacturers and supporters of flushable wipes argue that the ‘flushable’ labeling is accurate because they have their own evidence (one study done by the Responsible Flushing Alliance) to support the notion that other materials, and not the wipes, are the main causes of city blockages.

The New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection proposed a bill in 2015 that would ban the sale of ‘nonwoven disposable products’–which would include the wipes in question however nothing has passed as of yet. The action was sponsored by 9 council members, the prime sponsor being Antonio Reynoso.

Despite pushback from New York City officials and plumbing professionals, the flushable wipe industry has grown steadily over the past decade. Brand Experience Magazine estimates the market will reach $3.5 billion by 2023.

Product manufacturers have thus far evaded being banned from major cities (Washington, D.C. was close to having the wipes banned in 2017). As of now, they’re still available for purchase in New York City at places like CVS, Target and elsewhere. As their opposition would say, flush at your own risk…

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