are flushable wipes safe to flush

Are Flushable Toilet Wipes Safe to Flush? No. Here’s Why:

Flushable toilet wipes are a type of wet wipe marketed as safe to flush down the toilet. Many people find them to be a more effective and hygienic option than toilet paper alone. Flushable wipes are made from a combination of fibres and synthetic materials that are supposed to break down and disintegrate when they come into contact with water. But, does this actually happen? Are flushable toilet wipes safe to flush? The short answer is no.

Although they may appear to be convenient and safe to flush, flushable wipes are not always as safe as they seem. Despite their name, flushable toilet wipes are not safe to flush down the toilet.

While they may break down to some extent, they can still cause significant damage to plumbing systems and contribute to clogs and blockages in sewer lines. It is important to dispose of flushable wipes in the trash instead.

Understanding the Composition of Flushable Toilet Wipes

The primary components in their fabrication are the wipe materials and the manufacturing process. These wipes are typically comprised of a combination of synthetic and natural fibres. Natural fibres, like cotton and wood pulp, are biodegradable. However, synthetic fibres, like polyester and polypropylene, don’t degrade as quickly.

In manufacturing, these fibres are carded together, forming a nonwoven fabric. It’s this nonwoven structure that gives the wipes their softness and strength. Yet, it’s also this structure that creates challenges in the wipes’ breakup and degradation, raising questions about their flushability.

Evidence indicates these wipes are not sewer-safe. The increasing issue of blocked sewage systems is linked to their disposal. Here is an example:

Despite being marketed as flushable, these wipes don’t disintegrate as efficiently as toilet paper, leading to blockages.

The Breakdown Process of Flushable Wipes in Sewer Systems

Unlike toilet paper, which disintegrates quickly, flushable wipe disintegration speed is much slower. This is due to the strong fibrous materials they’re made of which are designed to withstand moisture and maintain their form.

When you flush them, they travel through your plumbing into the sewer system. But instead of breaking down, they often stay intact, leading to potential sewer blockage issues. Over time, these undissolved wipes can accumulate and form ‘fatbergs’, a term coined for masses of fat, wet wipes, and other debris.

These fatbergs can cause significant damage and costly repairs to sewer systems. To complicate matters further, not all wipes marketed as flushable pass the industry’s disintegration criteria.

The Flushable Products Standard Released in 2022

The introduction of the Flushable Products Standard (DR AS/NZS 5328:2022) by the Water Standards Association of Australia has significant implications for the manufacture, marketing, and use of flushable wipes. This standard aims to provide guidelines for products that are safe to flush down the toilet.

This standard, released in mid-2022, is designed to provide a clear criterion for product flushability. The most critical test is the product’s ability to disintegrate within 30-60 minutes. This measure will help ensure that wipes marketed as flushable will reduce the likeliness of sewer blockages, thus reducing maintenance costs and environmental damage.

The effectiveness of this standard depends on the cooperation of manufacturers and the awareness of consumers. Therefore, education campaigns about the risks of flushable wipes and the importance of the new standard are essential for its success.

Why Do We Need a Standard?

The standard is necessary because some products claim to be flushable but can cause blockages in wastewater systems. These blockages can lead to public health and environmental risks. In the UK, it costs £100 million annually to clear such blockages, mainly caused by wet wipes. In Scotland, the annual cost is £7 million, with 36,000 blockages each year. In Australia and New Zealand, the issue is costing tens of millions of dollars each year.

What is a Flushable Product?

A flushable product is one that doesn’t adversely impact wastewater networks and treatment systems. The standard excludes toilet paper, liquids, and soluble products.

What Does the Packaging Symbol Mean?

Products that meet the standard will display a “flushable” symbol on their packaging. If a product is not flushable, it should clearly display a “do not flush” symbol. Look for this symbol on the packaging:

Who Was Involved in Creating a Flushable Products Standard?

The standard took approximately 7 years to develop and involved a technical committee comprising manufacturers, water utilities, peak bodies, and consumer groups.

What Tests Do Products Have to Pass?

Products must pass six tests and provide an attestation that they do not contain plastic. The tests include clearing a toilet and drain line, not blocking pumps, breaking apart readily, sinking in a treatment plant, and biodegrading.

Is the Standard Voluntary?

Yes, the standard is voluntary, but legal action could be taken against products that falsely claim to meet the standard.

When a standard is described as voluntary, it means that manufacturers are not legally required to comply with it. However—and this is a big “however”—if a product claims to be flushable but doesn’t meet the standard’s criteria, it could be subject to legal action. So, while it’s not mandatory to follow the standard, there are legal incentives to do so.

Global Adoption

The standard is one of the first of its kind and has garnered interest from other countries like Israel, which plans to adopt it without changes.

Implications for 2024

As for products labelled flushable in 2024, here’s the scoop:

  1. Grace Period: There’s a two-year grace period for the introduction of the standard. This means manufacturers have time to review and update their packaging to meet the standard’s requirements. In 2024, you should already see some products proudly sporting the new symbol.
  2. Consumer Trust: Products that display the flushable symbol in 2024 would likely have passed the rigorous tests outlined in the standard. This could make consumers more confident in the product’s flushability.
  3. Legal Risks: Products that falsely claim to be flushable could face legal repercussions. This could discourage manufacturers from making false claims, thereby protecting both consumers and wastewater systems.
  4. Global Trends: Given that other countries like Israel are interested in adopting the standard, products labelled as flushable in 2023 might also meet international criteria, making them more globally accepted.

While the standard is voluntary, it carries significant weight. Manufacturers have a strong incentive to comply, and by 2024-2025, you can expect more clarity and trustworthiness in products labelled as flushable. In the meantime, my professional advice as a plumber is not to flush anything other than toilet paper down the toilet.

Now You Know Not to Flush Toilet Wipes…

If you’ve been using flushable toilet wipes and now realise they’re not actually safe to flush, you might be wondering what your alternatives are. Instead of flushing these wipes down the toilet, it’s important to dispose of them in the trash. You can simply throw them in a waste bin after use. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep a small covered trash bin in your bathroom specifically for the disposal of toilet wipes and other non-flushable products.

By taking this simple step, you can help prevent clogs and blockages in your plumbing system and contribute to the overall health of Australia’s sewer systems. Remember, even though they may be labelled as flushable, it’s always better to be safe and throw them in the trash instead.