Yep, you read that correctly… a 250-meter-long mass weighing 130 metric tons has blocked a Victorian-era sewer tunnel in the east side of London.
The mass is a concrete-hard amalgamation of flushed items, including condoms, diapers, and—most notably—wet wipes that have all been cemented together with oils and fats that were also washed down drains. It is expected to take 3 weeks to remove the entire mass from the sewer tunnel. And while this may be the largest fatberg reported to date, there are some close runners-up: In 2013, English authorities found a 10-metric-ton “bus-sized” fatberg in another English sewer that cost £400,000 to remove.
When asked for their input on the matter, the wipes industry quickly turned the spotlight away from themselves by claiming that the “flushable” items go through rigorous tests and are not the problem- they say the clogs are caused by other items that are being flushed down that were never intended to be flushed in the first place. However, the people directly dealing with the problem have quite a different outlook:
“It’s an exaggeration to say that it’s not the flushable wipes causing the problems,” – Cynthia A. Finley Director of regulatory affairs, National Association of Clean Water Agencies
The wet wipe industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, all while problems at wastewater treatment plants are becoming near impossible to flush away.
Technical Service Manager, Bill Cyrus, of a northern Texas wastewater treatment plant comments on the problem first hand:
“The rag issue is going up, up, up, up, up. That industry has gone up exponentially in the last five to six years.”
Meanwhile – the wipes industry has been struggling along side lawmakers in deciding what flushable really means. Now that the issue is in the hands of the federal court, Kimberly-Clark is clapping back against labeling laws saying that it’s not flushable wipes that are causing the problem, it’s non-flushable wipes and trash causing the mayhem. According to the wet wipe giant, they have spent nearly two decades and millions of dollars on creating a flushable wipe made of wood pulp, instead of plastics, that break down and disperse after they’ve been flushed. Sadly, according to Bill Cyrus, while some of the wipes do in fact degrade, the majority of these wipes deemed “flushable” still aren’t good enough and they’re making matters worse.
Shitten Mittens might be a joke to some but those in wastewater treatment plants, Shittens can cause major concerns. The non-flushable gloves used for baby blowouts are flushed down our sewage systems creating giant fatbergs. Yes, poop is gross but giant fatbergs clogging our sewer systems is even worse! The only way to get rid of these giant fatbergs is to educate the public on how harmful non-biodegradable material is to our sewers.
Next time you flush a “non-flushable” wipe down the toilet think twice – its a toilet, not a trash can!
The wet wipes industry has been under fire in the past few years. The most recent lawsuit in D.C. that has landed on Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s desk is cautionary labeling of flushable and non-flushable wipes. Boasberg issued a preliminary injunction preventing a single manufacturer to be targeted by the labeling law and stated that it was violating the First Amendment.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was surprised by the ruling and said “It’s no more of a First Amendment issue, I would think, than telling tobacco companies what they have to put on packages of cigarettes,” Mendelson said.
The multibillion-dollar wet wipes industry has been expanding in the recent decade. All the non-flushable wipes being flushed down the toilet are creating huge issues for the wastewater systems across the nation.
Many people use the wet wipes for convenience but fail to realize the consequences once the wipes have been flushed down the toilet. The combination of grease, wipes, hair and other items create “Fatbergs”, which are massive globs of congealed cooking fat with wipes, and they are taking over!
The federal court has recently been involved with whether to classify wipes as flushable or non-flushable and how to label them correctly. Hopefully, in the coming year, the federal courts will help to minimize the wipes problem.
With over 300,000 sewage blocks per year in the UK and counting, it is time to make a change on how we dispose of “non-disposable” products. Many are avoiding the warning signs and fail to realize that 93% of all sewage clogs are from “non-disposable” wipes. Baby wipes, surface wipes and feminine hygiene wipes are just a few categories that are creating these massive clogs. Not only is it causing a nasty mess but the sewage spills are impacting the environment. Do you want raw sewage in your community? Next time you flush wipes, remember, it’s a toilet, not a trash can!
While flushable wipes are a convenient and easy answer for users, they cause big problems for local utility workers and an even BIGGER problem for the sewage lines! It is time to start sticking to your 3 Ps people! Tens of thousands of dollars are spent in Clark County Water Reclamation District unclogging sewage lines from flushable wipes annually and the Clark County is tired of it! “The reclamation district has a campaign aimed at educating the public about not flushing wipes and other items like prescription pills called Pain in the Drain.” Read more about it here….
A fatberg in the Baltimore sewage system got a mention in a recent “Saturday Night Live” “Weekend Update” segment. “Maintenance workers in Baltimore say they have cleared an 140-ton ‘fatberg’ from the sewer system, which is made up of congealed fat and waste that will not break down,” “Weekend Update” host Colin Jost said. “So good news, Baltimore: The McRib is back.” The Baltimore fatberg has been growing and was recently contributed to a 1.2 million gallon sewage overflow. Work is in process to upgrade and to increase the capacity of the Baltimore sewer collection and treatment systems to prevent these types of overflows in the future.
The flushable wipes industry is going to court over a new D.C. law mandating wipes can be labeled “flushable” only if they break apart in a short period of time after being flushed in typical sewer conditions. Kimberly-Clark Corporation, which manufacturers Cottonelle, Scott Naturals and Pull-Ups flushable wipes alleges the law is unconstitutional because it tries to regulate businesses beyond the city. The law takes effect January 1, 2018 and comes in response to the more than $50,000 a year D.C. Water spends to clear clogs caused by wipes with additional expenses to repair equipment damages by the wipes. Learn more here…
The City of Perry, Iowa has dropped its class action lawsuit against flushable wipes producers.
Since the lawsuit filing in 2015, Perry has not experienced any clogs or increased maintenance costs attributable to flushable wipes. Perry also admitted that none of its personnel were able to identify any flushable wipes manufactured by select companies in the city’s plumbing or wastewater systems. Perry dropped the lawsuit without receiving any compensation for alleged damages. Dave Rousse, president of INDA, the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, states “years of testing and field collection studies have shown that flushable wipes are not causing municipal clogs or increased maintenance.”
Recent collection studies in New York City, Maine, and California corroborated the statement. Those studies showed more than 98% of the items examined were not labeled or designed to be flushed, including baby wipes, surface cleaning wipes, paper towels as well as additional trash items. INDA is committed to educating consumers about proper disposal of non-flushable wipes through improved labeling and educating customers of the consequences of flushing these products.
So, wipes remain a problem for sewer system – and the flushable wipes industry wants to clarify that it is the non-flushable wipes that cause those problems.
ALDI was scheduled to offer Green Action Flushable Bathroom Cleaning Wipes this week as a special buy. Its promotion sparked outraged feedback on ALDI Australia’s Facebook page where customers posted comments imploring others not to buy the wipes as they are not flushable. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) also expressed their concern to ALDI. The ACCC is already pursuing alleged misleading flushable claims in federal court against Pental and Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd. While ALDI is standing by the flushable label as the product has passed INDA/EDANA flushability and biodegradability tests, they are bowing to social pressure to not sell the product.
Yorkshire Water is calling out the towns with the highest number of blockages caused by wipes. The towns of Huddersfield, Wakefield, Sheffield, Barnsley and Morley are at the bottom of the list. Yorkshire Water is called out to more than 30,000 sewer blockages every year, costing £2.4 million. In an effort to reduce the number of sewer blockages, Yorkshire Water has launched a new campaign, Yorkshire Loves a Binner. The campaign will run across social media and includes targeted activity in areas where wipes are the biggest cause of regular sewage blockages. The Yorkshire Water Yorkshire Loves a binner! website reminds people to only flush the three Ps (pee, poo and paper), shares do’s and don’ts to prevent sewer blockages, and has video of actual blockages. Yorkshire is rooting for a lot of binners.
If you follow the posts on NoMoreWipes.com, you recognize the havoc “flushable” wipes are wreaking on sewage systems. In Iberia Parish Sewer System District No. 1, they estimate wipes result in the burn up of 10 to 12 pumps a month. Now the sewer district has raised rates to cover the maintenance of those pumps. Customers are unhappy but the board that oversees the district has elected to wait a year to check the figures before making any rate adjustments. Customers are urged to stop flushing wipes to reduce the pump maintenance.
Late last year Washington D.C. passed first in the nation legislation that wipes marketed as “flushable” would have to abide by new standards on how quickly they break apart post-flush. The wipes industry is now lobbying Congress to reverse the D.C. law. Congress has the ability to attach a “rider” to an appropriates bill which would override the D.C. law. U.R. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) opposes the law as it sets a flushability standard that no company could meet and would force products off the shelves. He says the law is a ban because companies are unlikely to produce special “nonflushable” packaging to be sold in D.C. alone.
In defense of the law, council members may try to shame Representatives into abandoning their effort by asking their constituents if they worry about what goes down the drain in Washington. Additionally, there are several wipes made by Japanese companies that meet the city’s definition of flushable.
What do you get when you mix old sewer infrastructure with new upgrades in personal hygiene products? A BIG mess.
Flushable moist wipes have been under fire at the state and local levels since 2014, with cities like Washington D.C. banning the products all together in an effort to combat the costly damages stemming from sewer blockages.
But why should we revert back to the past when we’ve made huge steps forward with personal hygiene by using disposable sanitation items? Wipes and other disposables provide freedom and dignity to today’s elders and parents of small children like never before. So how do we find the happy medium between keeping our wipes and saving our pipes? Blogger Elizabeth Samson says it’s all about educating the public to be responsible about knowing what is ok to flush.
Keeping our sanitation infrastructures clear and in good repair matters to everyone. But sending us back to the hygienic past is no solution. Wouldn’t doing more to teach consumers what not to flush be better than depriving us of a product that improves our lives and mitigates the problem?
The sky is blue, grass is green, and, someday, your pumps are going to clog. It’s just another fact of life — or is it?
By Kevin Bates, Global Marketing Director, JWC Environmental
Clogged pumps in wastewater systems is every operator’s worry, holding up operations and requiring a messy and disruptive maintenance call to clear the clog. All types of locations — from municipal collections and private lift stations to small ejector pumps and large pump station facilities — can be plagued by dreaded clogs.
This problem is not a new one, but with higher concentration of disposable wipes in today’s sewage it has reached a crisis level in many locations. Congested pumps, often choked with wipes and debris, were once the everyday reality for a nursing home in Michigan, a municipal pump station in California and a prison in Las Vegas. After incorporating a grinder into their systems, the operators for all three facilities can now tell you they’ve discovered the truth — clogged pumps do not have to be a fact of life.
Rochester, Minnesota’s Public Works Department breaks down the hazards of flushing wipes and other non-flushables into sewer systems. Watch as they go through the process of what must be done in order to remove the unwanted items and prevent backups.
“Every day Rochester residents are sending wastewater down the drain to the Water Reclamation Plant for treatment. Unfortunately it isn’t just toilet paper and human waste being flushed. Non-flushable items are causing damage and costly sewer back-ups for property owners.”
Comedian Adam Conover explains the madness behind the “flushable” wipes. As he takes a trip down the sewer, he comes across a “fatberg” and San Fransisco Utilities Commission worker, Tyrone Jue tells us what exactly that means and what it does for our sewer systems.
Wipes makers continue to block allegations…and pipes.
Raleigh, NC is no stranger to the “wipes clog”. On February 5th, the city was notified of a hefty blockage causing sewage to spill over into Crabtree Creek. The city states that while INDA may say that wipes marked safe to flush are ok for the sewer, they just can’t stand by it.
“Several years ago, the city tested various paper products, including facial tissues and wipes, to see how quickly they disintegrated in a beaker of swirling water. Toilet paper began to fall apart almost immediately, while the tissues and wipes – even those sold as flushable – remained almost completely intact.”
Are the flushed hospital wipes to blame for the madness?
On February 6, 2017 a sewage spill in Newport Beach, CA was the culprit of shut down roads in the Newport Bay area.
“An Orange County Sanitation District crew responded to a report around 9:40 a.m. Monday that sewage had backed up and was coming out of a manhole on the northbound side of Newport Boulevard and Hospital Road (near Hoag Hospital), said Anthony Martinez, manager of OCHCA’s Ocean Water Quality Program. It’s believed that a blockage in a main sewer line contributed to the spill, Martinez said.”
USA Today reported that each year, health facilities flush an estimated 250 million pounds of drugs down the drain. But thats not all – with the increased use of wipes in healthcare facilities, we’re beginning to see damaging clogs and spillage from hospitals flushing down the non-flushable waste.
Last month, at the Society of Plastics Engineers Polyolefins Conference in Houston, TX, it was reported that Kimberly-Clark had just made their first major move since ~2007. The company revealed that they are expanding into new global markets and adding new lines to be sold in Korea, Colombia, Brazil and Singapore.
It’s suggested that K-C’s “Coform” technology is the reason for the new expansion. What’s Coform? Coform is a direct formed, thermal bonded airlaid technology which was first developed in the 1970s. The product sold internationally will include this same technology but offer a lower tonnage to (supposedly) adapt to the needs of emerging markets. The industry giant claims that this product is groundbreaking because it’s special technology allows it to clean better than the competition with less abrasion.
What’s the big deal? Kimberly-Clark is targeting emerging markets for their diaper and wipes products where they have a lot less competition. The problem is that the global wipes clog issue is already a big problem in major cities worlwide, however, this expansion could push it into a global (expensive) underground catastrophe. What’s more? Some of these countries don’t have the resources and technology to support the detrimental effects that come with wipes building up in the sewers.
New to Japanese airport bathroom stalls: Smartphone wipes on a roll.
In December, Tokyo’s Narita International Airport introduced the Smartphone Wipe to encourage guests to disinfect their smartphone screens while they visit the restroom.
Why? Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo, the company behind the effort, cited research in their video (below) that smartphone screens carry five times the amount of germs than toilet seats. According to a BuzzFeed report, toilet seats carry three types of bacteria, but the average phone screen carries between 10 to 12 types, including E.coli and fecal bacteria.
While the company claims that the wipes are “flushable”, there is no data to back up the claim and prove that they are not a threat to detrimental sewer clogs.
Extensive Market Research shows a steady growth across the board for the Non-Wovens Industry sales.
Wipes can be divided into two subgroups: Consumer and Industrial. Consumer wipes include two categories: personal care and household care – think makeup remover wipes, moist toilet wipes, glass cleaner wipes, kitchen wipes, etc. Industrial wipes are broken into four subgroups: general purpose, specialty, food service and healthcare wipes.
As we can see from the chart above, the wipes market from 2016 came in with a whopping $11 billion for the consumer product sales and $4 billion for industrial product sales.
In mature geographic regions, new products and increased interest in sustainability will drive growth; while emerging market regions continue to discover the efficiencies offered to institutions by industrial wipes, and the convenience and time-saving offered to increasingly affluent consumers.
Read about each category of wipes and the rest of the Market Research study, here.
In response to a class action lawsuit filed by 6 Minnesota cities and utilities the target flushable wipes companies have come in to inspect what is in the clogs. The courts have ordered the cities to allow the lawyers from the wipes companies to check out the clogs for themselves. We hope they can keep their suits clean!
A Kimberly-Clark representative told local new outlets, “Our products meet or exceed the widely accepted industry standards of flushability,” and, “In Minnesota, Kimberly-Clark is not aware of any instance where a K-C flushable wipe has caused a clog in a municipal sewer.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 and, right now, the 20-day jury trial isn’t scheduled to start until April of 2018. Maybe in the meantime a Muffin Monster might help fight the wipes battle!
Earlier in the year, Kimberly-Clark was under fire for the misleading branding of their bathroom moist wipes as “Flushable”. Why? Because *shocker* they’re not actually flushable.
Many companies have branded their wipes “flushable” in hopes of trick consumers into believing that they are ok to use. Not only does this give them a leg up in the industry, but the claims of getting the user felling cleaner than regular toilet paper with no apparent downside has attracted many new consumers.
So what’s the takeaway here? The city of Brisbane, Australia has discovered that the influx in wet wipe usage is actually the major contributor to the expensive sewer clogs, so tricking customers into thinking they’re not adding to the problem is the big no-no here.
What’s next? The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is ramping up to take out Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd and Pental Limited companies due to their false representations. If this works out in favor of the ACCC and the city of Brisbane, Queensland Urban Utilities would be saving a whopping $1.5 that they usually spend yearly clearing wipes from the sewer lines.