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‘Do Not Flush’ wipes labelling Bill making headway in California

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California legislators have shown early support for a critical environmental Bill to rebrand hygienic wet wipes marked “flushable” with written warnings about potential clogs.

Bill AB 1672, which covers all disposable wet wipes and flushable wipes frequently used for infant care, and by adults wanting a hygienic alternative to toilet paper, has passed a critical committee vote and is headed to the California State Assembly for further debate. The Bill was approved by a vote of 58-18 on the Assembly floor on January 30, after its introduction in February 2019.

The Bill calls for the labelling change on January 1, 2021, at which time “certain non-woven disposal products” would need “to be labeled clearly and conspicuously to communicate that they should not be flushed, as specified.”

This could potentially result in manufacturers adding a clearly visible “Do Not Flush” logo on their packaging. The logo would have to be in high contrast to other package artwork and easily visible to consumers, as with a similar Bill making headway in Washington, heading towards a vote on the House floor.

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The Bill is expected to face heavy opposition from industry lobbyists as it heads to the California Assembly and Senate. In its debates at the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where companies had some input on language, many references in the Bill to wipe products containing microplastics were removed.

The Bill originally required that wipes labeled “flushable” meet the flushability specifications of the International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG). This requirement was removed from the current version of the Bill, resulting in the wipes industry lessening opposition to the legislation.

Crews in Sacramento used to clean underground pumping stations once a month, but now they do it every one to two weeks thanks to clogs formed by non-flushable wipes.

In Ontario, just before the New Year, the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Clean Water Foundation teamed up with six Ontario municipalities for a public service announcement campaign that aims to prevent residents from using sinks and toilets like garbage cans.

While California has little in the way of precise statistics on wipes clogs, many U.S. cities have been affected by the false promise of “flushables”. For instance, in 2018, thousands of pounds of flushable wipes created a monster clog in the sewer system of Charleston, South Carolina.

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Charleston, South Carolina fights a wipes clog in 2018. Photo Credit: Charleston Water, Twitter.

“You know wipes clog pipes, right?” Charleston Water officials asked residents on Twitter after the incident. “If not, baby wipes clogged a series of large pumps at our Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant on Thursday afternoon. Since then, we worked 24/7 to get them out. We started by using a series of bypass pumps to handle the normal daily flow.”

Several cities, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., have already put limits on wipes due to the strain they put on pipes. In Washington, HB 2565 requires “Do Not Flush” logos on non-flushable wipes, but does not set a standard for using the term “flushable” on packaging.

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