disposable wipes

Disposable Wipes are Bad News

This is of particular interest to Septic Tank users

We in the UK dispose of over 3 million tonnes of wipes and nappies every year. This is equivalent in volume to 600 London Double Decker Buses every week!


This exercise identifies 2 major problems.
    1 - The disposal of wipes.
    2 - The inability and ineffectiveness of government offices to accept and evaluate a complaint.

This volume of waste (known as 'screenings') needs to be removed from the filter screens at the sewerage works daily, and is either transported to a land fill site, or incinerated. The costs of this operation must be astronomical, and we pay for it in our water bills.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

The manufacturers of these products are not helping either, in fact they are encouraging us to buy and use more, and their advertising is questionable too!

To support me in this you may email me at cos@quovari.co.uk

Overview of my research

A simple problem but one that is difficult to resolve for a private individual.
Concerns each and every one of us.
Seems no agency is willing to take ownership and try to resolve.
One gets directed from pillar to post.
One gets ignored (perhaps they think I will go away and forget all about it).
Nothing left but for me to write about it and see if any agency disagrees with my findings, or perhaps other people might wish to support me in my endeavours.
My gripe is about Andrex Washlets, but on further investigation I have found that the problem is much, much greater than this.

You too should be concerned about this.

But not only should you be concerned about this, but also the much broader aspect of the quasi official organisations who appear to be indifferent to accepting that there are problems and who are incapable of getting involved on our behalf.

My Problem

My situation

Having a septic tank I am extremely concerned about what can and can't be flushed down the toilet. I don't want blockages in my waste soil pipework, nor do I want articles such as Washlets flushable toilet tissue wipes filling up my septic tank, waiting for degradation, if they degrade at all.

I have requested my family not to use such items.

This is the package


you will notice on the packet that it says 'FLUSHABLE'. And on the reverse


it says 'biodegradable and flushable'.

This then, is my contention.

So I performed my own simple test.

My Comparison Test

I put one Washlets wipe in a pint glass with cold water and stirred. A day later there was no apparent degradation of these wipes. I was reminded of a similar experiment I did some 5 years ago where after some 6 months they had still not degraded.

I put 2 sheets Andrex toilet paper in another pint glass and stirred. Within a couple of minutes these 2 sheets were completely reduced to white tissue fibres. These would not cause blockages in waste sewer pipes.

My Conclusion

In my opinion Washlets do not degrade sufficiently enough to be classed as flushable. They could get snagged on an obstruction in sewer pipe and cause a blockage. If they do find their way to my septic tank, it seems that they remain there for a very long time; definitely not what I want in my tank.
I insisted that my family do not use them.

My Action

My route of seeking help, redress, satisfaction, or result was to contact ...

     Anglia Water
     Environment Agency
     Trading Standards
     Advertising Standards Authority

I didn't believe it would be so difficult.

To support me in this you may email me at cos@quovari.co.uk

I started out speaking with Kimberley-Clark who manufactures Andrex Washlets and was told by them that what was written on their packaging was approved by http://www.edana.org

Contacted http://www.edana.org and requested clarification of criteria of 'flushable' and 'biodegradable' and their reply was...

'...I cannot give you a precise answer to your questions.'

Then I went to Anglian Water and asked if they had problems with this type of wipe and they said

'that they do have a problem with items being flushed down the toilet, so much so that they regularly have to clean their sieves / filters to remove such items as well as a whole host of other detritus that is collected. These then have to be removed from the filter and transported to either a land fill or incinerator for disposal'.

I asked if there was any information on the volume or weight of this collected rubbish. No answer forthcoming as yet.

I then decided that as this seemed to be an environmental problem on a seemingly large scale that I should contact the Environment Agency. Spoke to them and they said that unless I has a specific environmental problem or situation they could not do anything. However the person I spoke to thought that the problem I was raising was something that she personally would look at at home. She said that I should speak to 'Trading Standards', and gave me their number. 08454 04 05 06

No luck there !

Trading Standards, - my telephone call was intercepted by Citizens Advice Consumer Service (CACS) helpline who took the complaint and said that complaint had been noted and that CACS are using the word 'CRIMINAL' in their submission to Trading Standards. CACS also said that the chances are that Trading Standards would not be pursuing this complaint since it has been noted on their records that I have been advised to go to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) nor would Trading Standards come back to me.

Not satisfied with this, I then made contact with my local Trading Standards. At first they said that they had not received any notification from CACS. Subsequently they found the notification and and wrote to Kimberly-Clark from their Kent office. The reply from Kimberly-Clark was

'We have thoroughly tested Andrex® Washlets to EDANA flushability guidelines in properly functioning toilet systems to ensure that, as they pass through the sewer system and are subjected to the action of moving water, they continue to lose their strength and break down. The guidelines require many different tests to be met such as they will flush down a toilet, they will pass along a drain line, they will sink in waste water, they will pass through pumps, they demonstrate dispersibility and they should bio-disintegrate or be biodegradable. They are not required to be fully dispersible in water but should be biodegradable or bio-disintegrate in their receiving environments. We recommend that the user disposes of one to two wipes per flush'.

Trading Standards, having sent me this information, will most probably not take any further action.

The Advertising Standards Authority were contacted, as advised by CACS, who said I couldn't complain to ASA because my complaint is not a sales promotion. They then suggested that I contact Trading Standards!

Circle completed!



So, where has this got me?

Nowhere really.
I've been passed from pillar to post and back again.

But I do feel like pursuing the matter.

Online research informs me that there is a SNAP Protocol – Sewer Network Abuse Prevention.
On trying to locate internet information on SNAP water.org.uk comes up.

And also there is FOG – Fats Oils & Grease. - water.org.uk again comes very near the top of the results.

It seems that both these entities - SNAP and FOG - are quasi government bodies but do not have an office. They are both committees that have members from interested parties like Kimberly-Clark and the water companies I presume. Trying to get information about these two (or information about a section of their involvement) is by locating a committee member in one of the interested parties.

Bottom line; these two sound good but in practice offer nothing to outsiders.
So I looked at the water.org.uk website and they state that

'Water UK is involved in developing policies on behalf of the UK water industry at European and national level'.

They also state on one of their web pages:

What's the problem?
The toilet and sewerage system is designed to deal with urine, faeces and toilet tissue. If you flush other 'personal' items such as sanitary products and cotton buds down the toilet, this can easily lead to blockages in the pipes and can cause flooding. Such 'personal waste' is known as Sanitary Related Debris (SRD).
But that is not the only problem that may occur.
When the waste eventually gets to the sewage treatment plant it can block the filter screens.
If there is heavy rainfall, the waste may escape from overflow pipes directly into the river or sea.
The scale of the damage... 
Children, bathers and other beach users regularly come across this waste and other used debris. To a child, the potential dangers of a condom, syringe needle or used sanitary towel are not always obvious.
An estimated 2 billion sanitary protection items such as condoms, tampons, razors and cotton buds are flushed down British toilets each year.
Three-quarters of sewer blockages are caused by people putting items they shouldn't down toilets or drains, and half of sewer flooding incidents are caused by these blockages.
Our sewers were not designed for this sort of waste and despite the efforts of the water industry to remove these products from the system, they can either cause severe blockages and flooding or escape the system and end up on beaches, riverbanks and canal sides.
The 2008 Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch Campaign collected more than 385,000 items of waste in one weekend in September, including Sanitary Related Debris.
According to the Beachwatch survey, in 2008 Sewage Related Debris accounted for 6.2% of the total waste collected on British beaches – an average of 136 items per kilometre of coastline.
The impact of Sewage Related Debris (SRD)... 
Personal products that are flushed down the toilet can end up on British beaches and riverbanks and pose a health risk to humans and wildlife. It also looks horrid. Would you like to walk down the beach and see a condom in the seaweed or find a tampon applicator in a rock pool?
Wildlife can also suffer greatly. Marine animals often mistake plastic materials for food. Turtles have been found to have a wide variety of plastics inside them.
Seabirds have been found with condoms in their stomachs and have been seen trying to feed small pieces of plastic to their chicks.
SRD such as tampons can also be mistaken for nesting material.
The long-term effects of plastics on marine wildlife is not yet known, but the health risks from used sanitary products, razor blades, out-of-date medicines, used condoms, dirty needles and the like cannot be underestimated.
The visual impact of this litter on the environment is also significant. An ENCAMS study found that SRD was one of the biggest causes of offence to beach visitors. It has been estimated that local authorities spend up to £14 billion cleaning up beach rubbish every year.
Bag It & Bin It 
Disposable products are an everyday part of life. They are easy and convenient to use and easy and convenient to dispose of. But you should not flush them away.
Waste sanitary and pharmaceutical items should, for health reasons, first be placed in bags before being put in the bin.
Be part of the solution. Follow the simple disposal code: Don't Flush It… Bag It & Bin It

Would I be wrong in assuming that Kimberly-Clark ought to be aware of water.org.uk ?

Then there is an American site nsf.org which states that

'The NSF Flushable Consumer Products Program utilizes the INDA/EDANA Flushability Guidelines as a basis for testing under this program.
Based in Cary, North Carolina, INDA is the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. Based in Brussels, Belgium, EDANA is the international association serving the nonwovens and related industries.
In 2008, after four years in development, INDA and EDANA introduced "The Guidance Document on the Flushability of Nonwoven Consumer Products." The document contains guidelines representing the first-ever initiative to provide companies with a comprehensive framework for testing disposable products to determine their flushability. Today, this is the accepted industry document for testing flushability claims'.

Then I located this document at

and at the bottom line it states in its report dated 01.09.2008...

'Definition of Flushability...

* clear toilets and properly maintained drainage pipe systems under expected product usage conditions

* be compatible with existing wastewater conveyance, treatment, reuse and disposal systems; and

* become unrecognizable in a reasonable period of time and be safe in the natural receiving environments.

This is what I wanted to know.


If it goes round the bend, then all is OK. - are they serious !!!
- not sure about this second line
Last line – by the time it reaches the sewerage works it will be 'unrecognisable' having been squashed up with all the other detritus!

But what about Biodegradable?

There is a PDF download from water.org.uk - P7696 Test Protocol - that sheds some light and it quotes :-

'It is known that the manufacturers of disposal products are developing their own test protocol
via EDANA and INDA, the European and North American trade associations for non-woven
paper products. Although it is unlikely that the requirements of the EDANA and INDA protocol
will be exactly the same as the proposed WRc Protocol developed by the CP311 project there
is a high degree of commonality in the approach taken by both protocols. It is understood that
the EDANA and INDA protocol currently does not address the issue of snagging of products in
the drain or sewer but that they are not opposed to considering including this when a suitable
test becomes available. The EDANA and INDA protocol is currently confidential so no further
details can be given in this report.'


For the Sewerage Operator the main problem is that there is currently little knowledge of the
behaviour of these products if they are flushed. There is little reliable information on whether
they will strand, snag and cause blockages; whether their presence will make blockage
clearance more difficult; whether they are biodegradable, what is the current legal and
regulatory situation relating to these products. An additional issue is the impact of the
increasing use of low water use toilets and domestic appliances.


The disintegration of a product is assessed when it is buried in soil combined with sludge
biosolids. The product is required to biologically disintegrate in soil environments and be
unrecognisable in a reasonable period of time. The product meets the requirements if more
than 95% of the product mass passes through a 1 mm sieve after 56 days of exposure in a
laboratory soil environment.
This test may not be required provided the product manufacturer provides acceptable test
data that shows the product is biodegradable.


It is understood that the EDANA and INDA protocol currently does not address the issue of snagging of products in the drain or sewer but that they are not opposed to considering including this when a suitable test becomes available. The EDANA and INDA protocol is currently confidential so no further details can be given in this report.

Now these quotes are taken out of context from the above PDF report and I have embolden some of the text. I recommend that the reader reads the report in full.


I had some success with wrcplc.co.uk who supplied me with details on the scale of the problem. They gave me figures which indicated that the total 'screenings' removed from UK sewage treatment works over the course of 1 year was in excess of 3,000,000 tonnes per year, and growing!

This is equivalent to 31,200 bus loads per year going into landfill or incineration.

So where am I?

I questioned with Kimberly-Clark the meaning of 'flushability'.

Answer is

If it goes round the bend, then it's flushable.
A six year old could have said that.
The official version seems not very scientific.

Then what about Biodegradable.
This is a bit more difficult.
The answer from the PDF report says if it goes through a 1 mm hole after 56 days then all is ok.
I'm not sure a washlet will do that.


I would suggest that flushable should mean something like :-

Flushable is only permitted if the article(s) being flushed are as easily degradable as toilet paper,
not plastic or cotton or wool or similar man made fibre,
non toxic (this would include pills, medicines, etc.),
non hazardous (this would be needles etc.),
not detrimental to the sewer pipe system or the sewerage treatment works.

None of the agencies are likely to come back to me.
I should write this up as a blog type website.
Ask for feedback.
Consider advising each agency of the blog.
Condider feeding this information to my local newspaper and hope for syndication.
Consider feeding this information to my MP, Minister for the Environment, and others.

To support me in this you may email me at cos@quovari.co.uk

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