By Lillian Boyd

Are flushable wipes actually flushable?

Amid the scarcity of toilet paper at grocery stores, South Coast Water District staff says they are dealing with the brunt of an increased use of “flushable” wipes.

“’Flushable’ wet wipes have gained in popularity with the lack of toilet paper and due to sophisticated marketing tactics,” SCWD public information officer Sonja Morgan said. “These wipes can clog up sewer pipes and cause sewer system pump stations to block and shut down, causing large sewer spills into our community.”

Sanitary operators, who are reportedly working longer hours due to the coronavirus crisis, now have the additional burden of finding these blockages before they can cause damage. While toilet paper dissolves readily, wipes and paper towels take much longer to dissolve if ever.

Flushable wipes clogging pipes are not a new dilemma for wastewater agencies.

“It is a problem wastewater agencies have been taking on for well over 15 years,” Morgan said. “Misleading labeling on wipes has caused widespread confusion among consumers.”

Major brands like Cottonelle counter that its wipes are designed to be flushed, while most wet wipes are designed to be thrown away.

Cottonelle Flushable Wipes are 100% flushable and start to break down immediately after flushing, according to a Kimberly-Clark Family statement. Kimberly-Clark owns brands like Cottonelle, Fleenex, Scott and Huggies.

On March 30, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a release urging Americans to only flush toilet paper down the toilet—and to throw wipes or other non-flushable items in the trash.

“Flushing only toilet paper helps ensure that the toilets, plumbing, sewer systems and septic systems will continue working properly to safely manage our nation’s wastewater,” the EPA Press Office said. “While EPA encourages disinfecting your environment to prevent the spread of COVID-19, never flush disinfecting wipes or other non-flushable items. These easy steps will keep surfaces disinfected and wastewater management systems working for all Americans.”

According to the EPA, flushing anything other than toilet paper, including disinfecting wipes, can damage internal plumbing, local sewer systems and septic systems. Fixing these backups is costly and takes time and resources away from ensuring that wastewater management systems are otherwise working properly.

“Unfortunately, over the years, people have turned the toilet into a trash can,” Morgan said. “Flushing these types of items down the toilet causes home pipes to clog and can have a significant impact on our sewers and not to mention our ocean.”

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