Written by: Lee Ann Rush
Years ago there were just “baby wipes,” moistened towelettes that were tossed into the nursery diaper disposal pail once the baby was changed. In recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of pre-moistened wipes available for a myriad of household purposes, including bathroom use. These wipes, marketed under brand names such as Charmin, Cottonelle, Kandoo, Earth’s Best and Wet Ones, are all advertised as being “flushable.” Unfortunately, that’s only partially true. Yes, you can flush the wipes down the toilet and they will disappear from view. The problem is that, once they reach the sewer or septic system, these “flushable” wipes do not break down and decompose. Instead, they clog pipes, sewer pumps and other machinery, causing backups in municipal sewage systems around the country and across the Western world, and wreaking untold havoc on private home septic systems (i.e., the cesspools used by many homeowners here on Long Island and in other areas). This wastes money, resources, and is just not Green on any level whatsoever!
In July of 2013, the wet wipes problem gained notoriety when sewer operators in London reported having to remove a 15-ton mass composed of wrongly-flushed grease and “flushable” wipes from the city’s sewer system. This repulsive mass, termed the “fatberg,” was the size of a city bus! Ugh! Also this past summer, the problem of clogged sewers reached a breaking point in Bemus Point, New York, when municipal officials literally and figuratively set up traps: basket strainers were installed in various sections of neighborhood sewer piping to determine which residences the offending wipes were coming from! Officials then contacted the flush-culprits and beseeched them to stop flushing wipes, said Tom Walsh of the Chautauqua Lake Sewer Districts. “We could walk right up, knock on the door and say, ‘Listen, this problem is coming right from your house,’” he continued. So watch out, the wipe-patrol may be paying a visit to your neighborhood.
Naturally (pun absolutely intended), spokespersons from the manufacturers of bathroom wipes, which include corporate giants Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly-Clarke, insist that it’s not their products causing the problem. No, of course not, it must be those other non-flushable items like paper towels, feminine products and those pesky baby wipes, which were never meant to be flushed in the first place. However, the trade association of the Non-woven Fabrics Industry (INDA) has revised its voluntary guidelines, specifying seven specific tests for wipes manufacturers to use in determining if their wipes are truly “flushable.” INDA also has recommended a universal “Do Not Flush” logo (a crossed-out stick figure person and toilet) to be displayed on non-flushable products. You can’t make this stuff up. We’ll see how soon the manufacturers voluntarily comply with that recommendation!
Bottom line: there are only three things that should be flushed down the toilet. We all know about Number One and Number Two. The third thing is very simple: toilet paper.