What does flushable really mean?

The consumer trend for trading toilet paper for wipes is constipating sewers worldwide. NZ company Cottonsoft Limited believes it has come up with a solution – flushable wipes that are also biodegradable and dispersable. 

Fatbergs have been making the news a lot recently and the picture is not very pretty.

Our drains are struggling with obesity because of what we are feeding them by flushing wet wipes down the loo, and oils and cooking fats down the sink. Mixed together they form giant fatbergs (lumps of congealed fat, wet wipes and sanitary towels) which are not only causing costly damage but also the unpleasant task of their removal. 

In 2015 a 10-tonne, 40 metre-long fatberg was removed from a London sewer. Two years earlier workers spent four days clearing an 80 metre fatberg weighing 15 tonnes from underneath Shepherds Bush Road. Across the ditch in Sydney wet wipes are a 500 tonne per year problem according to Sydney Water because that is how many wipes it is removing from the system. In March this year the Sydney Morning Herald reported that one plumber manually removed a 12-metre block of wipes that a family had flushed down the toilet.

The impact on the environment can also be dramatic, with overflows caused by sewer blockages impacting on local creeks, rivers and even beaches.

Closer to home wet wipes have cost Whangarei District Council almost $100,000 in blockages in the past year. 

In the UK one in five people admit to flushing wet wipes down the loo, according to research by Thames Valley. Part of the problem is that many of the wipes on the market, which are marketed as flushable, flush but don’t disintegrate. 

Another big part of the problem is that woven cloths, baby wipes, kitchen wipes and bathroom cleaning wipes are going into the New Zealand sewer system, even though they should not be flushed. They are not breaking down in water like toilet paper, get snagged on pipes or tree roots, snowball and clog up the drains.

It has inspired wipes manufacturers, including NZ company Cottonsoft Limited, to come up with a better solution.

After two years of development, applying learnings from global and local bodies, council water care providers and NZ plumbing groups, as well as independent testing by CitiLab in Dunedin (agitators, slosh box tests, plus multiple quality control tests of tensile strength, thickness and tissue weights),  Cottonsoft has brought Paseo Wipes onto the market: an ultrasoft wipe made from natural fibres (paper) with a cross directional and machine directional tensile strength which means the paper rips and tears easily. Paseo wipes are biodegradable, free from inks, dyes or perfumes, alcohol- and soap-free, and contain aloe vera which is gentle on the skin and environment. They also carry the Cottonsoft Hydro Care mark, which is the company’s guarantee that these wipes are within pre-determined quality criteria ensuring they are ultrasoft, flushable, dispersible and biodegradable.

“There is currently no industry standard for flushable wipes though the INDA/EDANA guidelines, that our wipes comply with, seem the most relevant for New Zealand systems,” says Cottonsoft category marketing manager Malcolm Everts. “The Hydro Care mark is not just a test, it’s an ongoing commitment.”

Understandably, water authorities and local bodies are reluctant to endorse any wipe as flushable, taking the view that while some of the newly formulated and improved wipes by leading manufacturers do break down more quickly, they don’t break down quickly enough. 

“The truth about wipes is that they are really good to use,” Everts says. “Trying to change consumer behaviour to stop people from using them is one thing, or you can actually make sure that whatever they’re using is less bad for the environment.” This has been Cottonsoft’s approach with Paseo. The company has also developed a flushable hand towel, because people sometimes flush these in public loos, causing blockages. However, on industry advice Cottonsoft has chosen not to promote these. “The problem comes when we start telling people that it’s okay to flush our hand towels because there’s the risk people will start flushing other brands’ hand towels that are not flushable. So even though we have a solution, if we start advertising that, then we can actually create more of a problem,” says Everts. “And what has happened with wipes is a great example of that.” 

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