Could this song, Don’t Flush the Baby (Wipes) by Steve Anderson, Water Resources Analyst at Clean Water Services in Hillsboro, Oregon, become a hit? Many wastewater utilities probably wish that the song would be played on radio stations in their cities, with their customers soon singing along and remembering the lyrics as they consider what they should flush—or not flush—down their toilets.
While most baby wipes are labeled as not flushable —albeit in tiny print on the backs of the packages—the marketing and use of “flushable” wipes has expanded in recent years. There are no requirements that a product must meet to be labeled flushable, and products labeled as flushable may still cause problems in the sewer system because they do not disperse nearly as rapidly as toilet paper.
Take a look at this clogged pump in the Clean Water Services system:
And this bar screen at a treatment plant:
And this huge pile of non-dispersible products removed from the sewer system:
These problems, of course, are caused by products other than flushable wipes, too. Although many people know that paper towels and cotton swabs should not be flushed down the toilet, many others still flush them. Did you know, though, that facial tissues should also not be flushed? Tissues are designed to not fall apart in your hand when you are blowing your nose, and they don’t fall apart in water so easily either, as shown in this video produced by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the City of Spokane Department of Wastewater Management.
The problem with flushable wipes (other than their lack of dispersibility) is that they confuse the message that utilities are trying to deliver that only toilet paper and human waste should be flushed. Public education is critical to reducing this problem, and many utilities have distributed posters and flyers to their customers. This August 7 story on KOIN TV featured Frank Dick, Industrial Pretreatment Coordinator for the City of Vancouver, clearly showing the problems caused by flushable wipes.
Cooperation from product manufacturers to clearly label products as not flushable, however, would help tremendously in educating the public. Many products are not meant to be flushed and are not labeled as flushable, but they still end up in the sewer system. The fine print on many non-flushable products, such as these baby wipes, is not sufficient:
Instead, a simple “no-flush” logo needs to be displayed prominently on the top or front of the packaging. This logo has been developed by the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA) for voluntary use. If it is printed large enough and in the right location on packaging, it would certainly do the trick.
Last month, Pacific Northwest utility representatives from NACWA, the American Public Works Association (APWA), and WEF met with representatives from Costco and their manufacturers of flushable wipes to discuss the issues involved with these products and potential solutions. Costco agreed that adding the no-flush logo to products that are not marketed as flushable would be a possibility.
NACWA, APWA, and WEF would like to continue these discussions with Costco and with other manufacturers and retailers of non-dispersible products. In addition, the WEF Collection Systems Committee has also been working with INDA to revise its voluntary Flushability Guidance Document to more accurately reflect actual dispersibility in the sewer system. Are you interested in joining in these efforts? If so, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, please see NACWA’s new webpage with resources—including videos, public education materials, reports, and conference presentations—about flushable wipes and other non-dispersible products.