Disposable Wipes are Bad News
This is of particular interest to
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
This exercise identifies 2 major problems.
1 - The disposal of
2 - The inability and ineffectiveness of government offices to accept and evaluate a complaint.
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
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
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.
septic tank I am
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.
requested my family
not to use such
This is the package
you will notice on the packet that it
says 'FLUSHABLE'. And on the
'biodegradable and flushable'.
This then, is my contention.
So I performed my own
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.
In my opinion
Washlets do not
sufficiently enough to be classed as
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
My route of seeking help, redress,
satisfaction, or result was to contact ...
Advertising Standards Authority
I didn't believe it would be so
I started out speaking with
who manufactures Andrex Washlets
and was told by them
that what was written on their packaging was approved by
requested clarification of criteria of
and 'biodegradable' and their
'...I cannot give you a
answer to your questions.'
Then I went to
if they had problems with this type of wipe and they said
'that they do have a problem with
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
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 !
- 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
Standards. At first they said that they
had not received any notification from CACS. Subsequently they found
the notification and and wrote to
from their Kent
office. The reply from Kimberly-Clark was
'We have thoroughly
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'.
having sent me this
information, will most probably not take any further action.
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
So, where has this got me?
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
Bottom line; these two sound good but
in practice offer nothing to outsiders.
So I looked at the
and they state that
'Water UK is involved in
policies on behalf of the UK water industry at European and national
They also state on one of their web
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
Children, bathers and
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
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)...
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
Bag It & Bin It
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
'The NSF Flushable
Consumer Products Program utilizes the
INDA/EDANA Flushability Guidelines as a basis for testing under this
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
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
* be compatible with
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
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
disposal products are developing their own test protocol
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
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
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
For the Sewerage Operator
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;
are biodegradable, what is the current legal and
relating to these
products. An additional issue is the impact of the
increasing use of low
water use toilets
and domestic appliances.
disintegration of a product is
assessed when it is buried in soil combined with sludge
biosolids. The product is required
biologically disintegrate in soil environments and be
unrecognisable in a
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
may not be required provided
the product manufacturer provides acceptable test
data that shows the
It is understood that the
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
meaning of 'flushability'.
If it goes round the bend,
A six year old could have said that.
The official version seems not very
Then what about
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
Ask for feedback.
Consider advising each agency of the
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.