Cracking down on "flushable" claims

22 September 2016 | The international water industry is calling for clearer labelling.

Do not flush (despite the label)

Australian water utilities announced today that they will be supporting the international industry statement on so called "flushable" products.

The international declaration signed by companies in the UK and nine other countries (including Australia) calls on manufacturers to clearly label their products as non-flushable until an agreed International ISO flushability standard can be agreed upon.

Help wipe out the "flushable" spin by telling the major manufacturers and retailers you want these products off the shelves unless they clean up their acts.

What needs to change?

Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), the industry body for the Australian water sector, has signed the international statement agreeing that:

  • all wipes and personal hygiene products currently on the market should be clearly labelled as "do not flush" and disposed of in the bin only. This includes personal wipes, baby wipes, makeup wipes, kitchen and bathroom cleaning wipes, paper towels, facial tissues and all personal hygiene products.
  • wipes labelled "flushable" which are currently based on the manufacturer's trade association guidance document should now be labelled "do not flush", and the label should also direct users to dispose of the products in the bin only.
  • that manufacturers of wipes and personal hygiene products should give consumers clear information about disposal methods.

Don't believe the current claims

In Australia and overseas, products such as wipes (including those labelled as being for babies, for makeup removal, cleaning) as well as other items (such as feminine hygiene products), are often labelled as flushable despite the fact that these products do not break up. As a result, water utilities are reporting more problems with sewers, pipes and toilet blockages, thanks to people flushing these products under the impression that would not cause any harm.

When CHOICE examined this issue last year we found that many people have incurred significant plumbing bills caused by blockages, and industry in Australia estimates that the blockages are costing water services $15 million a year and growing.

The manufacturers say that their flushable products meet current guidelines for flushability that have been developed by the industry itself. However, the water industry says these guidelines are not suitable, and are instead calling for an international standard to be developed that can be agreed on by both the water and waste-water industries in compliance with local requirements.

What a truly flushable product might look like

The main requirements for this standard would include that the product:

  • breaks into small pieces quickly
  • must not be buoyant
  • does not contain plastic or regenerated cellulose and only contains materials which will readily degrade in a range of natural environments.

So far, the testing CHOICE has done on all kinds of wipes currently labelled flushable on the market shows that none of these products are safe to flush.

So until the a standard is developed and truly flushable products are developed, all consumers are advised to stick to flushing only the three P's – poo, pee and (toilet) paper – and putting anything else in the bin.