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Biodegradable flushing wipes? Waste management says, think again

Liz Kotalik

Biodegradable flushing wipes? Waste management says, think again

CREATED Jul. 18, 2013

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - So, we have a bit on an issue on our hands, and it starts out pretty innocently. 

Labels on flushable wipes tell you you're safe to flush them down the toilet, so you flush them down!

"They do appear to be flushable," John Warner, Deputy Director of Pima County Waste Water Management, told Nine On Your Side, "but that's about where our problems begin."
And those problems end at Pima County Regional Waste Water Reclamation Department. 
It's where everything you flush goes, and everything that shouldn't be flushed gets sorted out and sent to landfills.
When we visited the site, white wipes were everywhere, and although there's no telling if the wipes we saw today are flushable, Warner said recently, they've been seeing more and more of those kind of wipes in their systems.
"They're not biodegrading as fast as I think the general public are led to believe."
He said the wipes are getting stuck in the sewers and clogging up pipes. 
And when the county put a camera down in their system, they said the wipes could be seen caked on the side of the walls. 
"I can't control the marketers," Warner said, "But,  I hope someday they listen to our industry."
So, we reached out to Kleenex and Scott brands, and it a statement to Nine On Your Side, they said:
"At Kimberly-Clark our focus is providing essentials for a better life. We’ve seen several published reports suggesting that a wide variety of products, most of which are not meant to be flushed, may be causing problems with sewage systems in several cities across the country.
Our flushable wipes use a patented disposable technology, which means that when used as directed they break up after flushing and clear properly maintained toilets, drain lines, sewers, pumps and septic and municipal treatment systems.
We test these flushable wipes extensively in the lab and in the field to ensure compatibility with home and municipal waste water conveyance and treatment systems. All Kimberly-Clark products labeled as flushable pass industry guidelines for assessing the flushability of non-woven products.
Our commitment is that if our wipes say they are flushable, then we stand behind that. We want consumers to read the labels on wipes products before they flush — our wipes products are clearly labeled. Don’t flush anything that’s not clearly labeled as safe for flushing.
We believe our flushable wipes help people feel cleaner and fresher than toilet paper alone, and we’re continuing to improve the innovation behind the product. We are committed to helping people understand what’s safe to flush and what is not and will continue to work closely with industry groups, local governments and local utilities to ensure accurate information is promoted."
Warner said despite the company's comments, he still believes their products cause problems.
"Biodegradable in someone's terms may not match our terms," Warner said.
The county said flushable wipes have caused about 40 sewage overflows last year, costing around $1,500 of your tax dollars to clean up.

That number of overflows, they said, is much less than most of the country because of Pima County's training.
So, we asked, is there anything safe to flush down the toilet?
Warner said, toilet paper.