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‘Flushable’ wipes are causing widespread blockages

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 ‘Flushable’ wipes are causing widespread blockages

As a consumer in Australia, it’s probable that you’re aware of the emergence of wet wipes on supermarket shelves over the past few years. A multi-purpose product, their use as an alternative to toilet paper has become a regularity in Australian households.

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You may need to second-guess what brands are telling you

With product labels from trusted brands indicating that these wipes are flushable, we can be forgiven for not believing otherwise.

As a matter of fact, however, these wipes are not only blocking our household plumbing systems, but are contributing to something far more problematic.

Consumers are contributing to a million-dollar problem

Despite the claims of these companies, the wipes are causing issues further down the piping network, with clearance of blockages costing authorities millions.

Around 3,500 blockages occur in the Sydney city system each year, with wet wipes being a main contributor; it’s estimated that they cause up to 75% of all sewer network blockages.

Clearing out system blockages is a physically demanding task, faced by workers on a daily basis.

Stories concerning the rise of ‘Fatbergs’ are common in the news nowadays, and are the scourge of sewer system workers in major cities worldwide. Fatbergs are a solid mass found in sewer systems, usually caused by a mixture of grease, fats, and other non-biodegradable matter, most commonly in the form of wet wipes.

Increased instances of these masses in sewer networks have correlated with the popularity of disposable cloths. In 2017, a fatberg as heavy as ‘11 double decker buses’ was removed from a London sewer tunnel. In Brisbane, a fatberg had to be removed from a sewer via a crane, it was so big.

via South West Water & AP

High Court decision on flushable wipes could confuse consumers

A recent High Court ruling regarding a case against the makers of Kleenex flushable wipes found no evidence to suggest the wipes were unsuitable for flushing. This decision, one of great controversy, goes completely against the views of consumer, water and environmental groups.

In the wake of the decision, a spokesperson for Sydney water said that what can and can’t be flushed down the toilet is easily remembered; the three P’s” poo, pee, and paper.

"From a wastewater management perspective, there are no wipes that are flushable”.

Since Sydney Water’s launch of the ‘Keep Wipes out of Pipes’ campaign, there have been decreases in the quantity of flushed wipes clogging up sewers.

Wet wipes subject of scientific testing

A 1.2km long replica sewer is being used in Brisbane to test the flushability of wipes. This testing, which began at the start of 2019, is aimed to figure out if any wipes on the market are suitable for flushing, with the creation of a national standard for these wipes on the agenda.

So far, the results aren’t promising. Wipes undergoing testing are varying in performance, though are generally too resilient, and unable to break down in the sewer.

If a wipe was manufactured to biodegrade properly, and in turn not causing sewer blockages, there’s every chance it’d receive a tick of approval.


If you have any questions about the content in this article, get in touch with a blocked drains expert on 02 9191 7374.


Resources used

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-04/flushable-wipes-trial-qld-urban-utilities-test-fatbergs/11362634

https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/court-dismisses-case-against-kleenex-maker-over-flushable-wipes-advertising-20190627-p5220z.html

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/how-fatbergs-are-clogging-sydney-s-sewerage-system-20190808-p52f9p.html

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