We have been righteously indignant about the use of adult wipes before, here and here, and have noted the spurious claims by one brand for men, “Dude Wipes” that claim that they "break apart when flushed." Now Matt Kessler notes in the Atlantic that the increasing use of big adult wipes is causing big problems for operators of sewage systems.
But lawsuits are now popping up across the country over use of the word “flushable.” Sewerage authorities claim that flushable wet wipes don’t break apart, and, as a result, are destroying municipal sewer systems. The wipes cluster with congealed food fat to form large blockages known as fatberg—a portmanteau of fat and iceberg. Last year, a 10-ton lump was removed from the London sewer system at a cost of £400,000. Cases have also been reported in Newcastle, Sydney, San Francisco, Miami, New York City, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.
Kessler explains that flushability tests are not realistic and assume that the wipes sit around in the pipes for hours before they hit the sewage pumps. The industry, which is self-regulating, sets a standard that is far too lax.
“It’s become clear that the manufacturers are not the people that should be telling us what is acceptable and not acceptable in our sewer systems,” says Rob Villee, the executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority, in New Jersey. Villee estimates that wet wipes are costing billions of dollars a year in worldwide maintenance. “This is an international problem,” he says. “This isn’t the United States, this isn’t Canada. It’s England. It’s Spain. It’s Australia. It’s Israel, France.”
Dude Wipes recently failed a test in Vancouver, Washington where they were soaked and flushed down an 8” diameter pipe, and then travelled over half a mile to where they were retrieved fully intact. The company claims that it has introduced a new version that avoids microplastics and is 100 percent biodegradable. The founder then goes on to insist that their product is better than toilet paper. They are not alone in believing this; it is now a 2.2 billion dollar industry. According to “the World of Wipes International Conference” speakers,
…disinfecting wipes are the next big thing in the wipes industry and are set to take off in the market. Arguing that with consumers inundated with reports of global diseases, such as MERS, SARS and H1N1, they want products that make them feel like they are in control. [consultant] Mr Mango believes that disinfecting wipes are an ideal preventative solution for consumers to use in order to mitigate the spread of disease.
So who knows what chemicals we are going to be adding to our wastewater.
The Dudes are great marketers, as were the people who introduced bottled water and who said in 2000 "when we are done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes." They did that by scaring us. Now they are doing the same thing to toilet paper: when they are done, we will all be wiping our bottoms with expensive, chemically laden sheets of cloth that we all then pay a fortune in taxes to have removed from our waste water. It never ends.