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Canada’s Competition Bureau won’t determine whether wet wipes ‘flushable’ claims are misleading

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On the heels of a 2019 study on wet wipe flushability by Ryerson University, environmental action groups successfully petitioned an inquiry by the Competition Bureau into a problem they alleged was costing some $250 million per year in repairs for Canada’s municipal wastewater systems. Photo credit: Siam, stock.adobe.com

With no decision reached, Canada’s Competition Bureau has closed its investigation into whether wet wipes labeled “flushable” can be safely flushed down the toilet without clogs, Friends of the Earth Canada has revealed.

Friends of the Earth Canada (FOE), an eco-action group, told The Canadian Press that the Competition Bureau found “a number of competing guidelines” that signaled the end of the inquiry, which came in February, despite no public announcement.

“At this time, enforcement action under the deceptive marketing practices provisions of the Competition Act does not appear to be the most effective way of addressing the issue of what products can be safely disposed of in sewer systems in Canada,” the Competition Bureau wrote to ES&E Magazine in a statement.

“The Bureau’s investigation revealed that there are a number of competing guidelines in Canada and around the world about when a product can be considered to be flushable in municipal sewer systems. Although the Bureau has discontinued its inquiry, it does not endorse the representations made about ‘flushability’ or the tests used to evaluate this feature. While the Bureau has discontinued its inquiry at this time, this will not prevent it from investigating other flushability claims should additional information come to light,” continued the Competition Bureau.

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In an article in ES&E Magazine’s August 2022 issue, Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) Executive Director Robert Haller, and Barry Orr, who is with the City of London, the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group, and a flushability researcher with Ryerson University, said that there were only two guidelines. One was developed by the International Water Services Flushability Group, an association of wastewater professionals, and the other by INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, whose members are wipes’ producers.

On the heels of a 2019 study on wet wipe flushability by Ryerson University (now called Toronto Metropolitan University), FOE, along with the CWWA, and the environmental law group Ecojustice, successfully petitioned an inquiry by the Competition Bureau into a problem they alleged was costing some $250 million per year in repairs for Canada’s municipal wastewater systems.

Ryerson researchers found that toilet paper loses on average 90% of its strength when wet, allowing it to disperse in toilets, plumbing systems and sewers. In contrast, flushable wipes only lose an average of 29% of their strength in wet conditions, explained researchers at Ryerson Urban Water.

Neither FOE nor Ecojustice has yet to issue a public statement on the end of the Competition Bureau’s wet wipes inquiry; however, FOE CEO Beatrice Olivastri told The Canadian Press that the decision was “totally unacceptable.” She indicated to ES&E Magazine that an official statement on the issue will likely be available by next week.

Canada is currently initiating a flushability standard through the Standards Council of Canada, which is being led by former CWWA Executive Director Duncan Ellison.

Last year, wipes manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Corp. settled a lawsuit with Charleston, South Carolina’s public works commissioners, vowing to improve the “flushability” of its Cottonelle Flushable Wipes, and improve its package labelling.

Early in 2022, the Competition Bureau had a more definitive finding over product label claims, when it fined coffee pod manufacturer Keurig $3 million for exaggerating the recyclability of the pods for Canadian consumers.

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