Enviro group asks Competition Bureau to probe claim of flushable wipes
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 1, 2019 5:13AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2019 6:26PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Friends of the Earth Canada wants the Competition Bureau to investigate a recent study it says proves there is no such thing as a "flushable" wipe.
"This is the most outrageous greenwashing I've seen in a long, long time," said Friends of the Earth CEO Beatrice Olivastri.
The organization, represented by lawyers at EcoJustice, is filing an application for an inquiry with the Competition Bureau, citing a recent Ryerson University study that tested 23 wipes labelled as "flushable." Researchers found none of them actually lived up to that claim.
Two of the "flushable" products partially disintegrated in drains; 21 of them didn't disintegrate at all.
Some of them took six flushes just to get through a toilet.
Friends of the Earth and EcoJustice want the Competition Bureau to investigate the companies for deceptive marketing practices and are asking for a $10 million fine for each of the 23 products sold as "flushable", including baby wipes, wet wipes for adults and older kids, toilet-brush pads and wipes, diaper liners, and bags for dog poop.
Packaging on the flushable wipes claim the products to be "biodegradable," "breaks up after flushing", "proven to clear properly maintained toilets, drain lines, sewers and pumps" and "immediately starts to break down after flushing."
Most of them claim to be living up to "industry" standards. Olivastri said part of the problem is there is one standard created by an international association of water utilities and professionals but another was developed by an industry association made up of the companies that make the products.
She said consumers should be able to decide for themselves which standard to trust.
Single-use wipes have become the bane of municipal sewage systems, clogging pipes and causing millions of dollars in damage and clean-up costs every year. Last year the BBC found single-use wipes were behind 80 per cent of clogs in Britain's sewers. In Charleston, S.C. last November, divers had to swim through 30 m of raw sewage to pull giant clumps of wipes out of the sewer system. In January, officials in Bradenton, Fla., blamed wipes for causing a 45-cm sewer pipe to burst, leaking more than 300,000 litres of raw sewage into a nearby creek.
In the British seaside resort town of Sidmouth earlier this year, water operators uncovered a 64-metre-long fatberg of wet wipes and congealed fats in a sewer that will take at least eight weeks to remove.
Barry Orr, the city sewer outreach and control inspector in London, Ont., and one of the authors of the study, estimates Canadian municipalities spend at least $250 million a year to remove blockages and wipes are the main culprit.
Olivastri said the new estimate is that municipalities are spending $1 billion to replace damaged sewer equipment.
The companies that make the products, however, stand by their wipes. A statement from Kimberly-Clark, which makes Cottonelle and Scott brands of flushable wipes, disputes the findings of the Ryerson study and says there are other studies that show the wipes clogging sewers are not the ones sold as flushable.
In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the U.S. company said Kimberly-Clark flushable products begin to break down as soon as they touch water and lose 75 per cent of their strength in a residential drain line within 30 minutes of being flushed.
"The problems faced by sewer authorities are due to the improper flushing of wipes not designed to be flushed, particularly baby and surface-cleaning wipes," the statement says.
The company says lab tests used to assess flushability are so stringent many of them fail all flushable wipes as well as regular toilet tissue.
The Ryerson study tested 101 different products, including toilet paper, and found only 17 products showed some signs of disintegration, of which 11 -- the toilet papers -- fully disintegrated.