By Frances Anne Côté of Iroquois Falls, Northeastern Ontario

Frances Anne emailed Environmental Defence a month or so ago to share her concern about the economic and environmental impact of so-called ‘flushable wipes’. As a result, we worked with her to learn more about the problem, reach out to others working this, and ask the manufacturers of these products to be more honest with consumers regarding how products are labelled. We also asked Frances Anne to write a blog about why this matters to her. Given that it is World Toilet Day, it’s the perfect time publish her blog. Read her story below:   

I was reading one of the local newspapers last July when this headline caught my attention: “‘Flushable’ wipes causing clogs”. I do not use disposable personal wipes as I feel there is no need for them. However, I was surprised to learn from the newspaper article that there is a big problem with disposable wipes causing clogs in municipal sewage systems, so I phoned my local sewage treatment plant operator to get more information.

The operator was happy to fill me in. He let me know that there is an ever-increasing, infrastructure-damaging, cost-inducing problem that municipalities all over Canada and the U.S. are forced to deal with because of these wipes. Personal wipes are being labelled as ‘Flushable’ and ‘Safe for septic systems’. The consumer reads those words on the packaging and thinks it’s okay to flush them down the toilet. Unfortunately, the labelling does not seem to be very accurate.

The manufacturers of personal wipes did some in-house testing that, according to them, showed that their wipes come apart in the sewer system just as easily as toilet paper does. They use those test results as rationale for promoting their products as flushable and septic safe. But testing done by independent, third-party organizations such the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG) have shown otherwise. MESUG is an association representing 25 Canadian communities with the goal of achieving efficient sewer treatment. Their laboratory testing has shown that many personal wipes do not break down the way the manufacturer claims. As such, they settle on screens, clog pipes and damage sewage infrastructure as they move through the wastewater system.

The solution to this problem is simple. No disposable wipes of any kind should ever be flushed down the sewer system. And the packaging of all disposable wipes should be labelled with an image or words that tell consumers that the wipes can’t be flushed.

Environmental Defence has written letters to some of the largest manufacturers of so-called flushable wipes to ask them to prominently display the words, “Do not flush” on the packing of all disposable wipes. They believe this represents the most viable way of educating consumers and reducing the amount of non-flushable items in the wastewater system. I encourage you to help by not buying these products, or at the very least throwing them into the garbage instead of flushing them down the toilet.