A Natural Alternative to Wet Wipe Sewer & Environmental Problems May 20, 2015 18:16

City and municipal sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants are having significant problems dealing with the increasing popularity of personal care “wet wipes” used by both men and women for good bathroom hygiene.

There are cities across the U.S. – and across the world for that matter – that are battling the problems caused by this increasingly popular means of “tush cleaning."

The problem lies in the fact that many of these wipes are simply not disintegrating as they make their way to the sewage treatment plants. Many cities and other municipalities have had to come up with various ways to process wipes that are not breaking apart after people flush them down the toilet. 

Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of super-knot. They clump together - cause a blockage in the system - and damage to sewer pumps and other equipment at treatment plants.

The heart of problem stems from the fact that some wipes are just too good at one of their key selling points - durability. Think about it, they need to sit soaked in a solution on the shelf in a store and not break apart. Not to mention the preservatives and other chemicals needed to successfully place this product in the market.

new york times wet wipe article 2015Because of the costs involved in managing this problem, it is getting the attention of city officials and their constituents across the U.S. Problems with municipal sewer systems are costing tax payers big bucks for maintenance and repair of damaged plumbing and sewage treatment equipment. The New York Times recently reported (March 13, 2015) that New York City has spent more than $18 million over the past five years repairing damage caused by wet wipes. 

Other cities and states that have had their share of costly wipe-related problems include:

  • Charleston, West Virginia - The process for solving a blockage issue can require a multitude of workers, from pipeline camera operators to those manning the vacuum trucks that flush pipelines and remove refuse. A four-hour blockage removal can easily cost the city $1,500.
  • Portland, Oregon - A spokesman for Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services, said sending even flushable wipes down the drain is, "Not a good idea...They're flushable but they're not water soluble...They clog up sewer pipes, including the ones that run from your house to the street."
  • Cincinnati. Ohio - Each year the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to deal with this problem.
  • Portland, Maine - even smaller cities, like Portland, Maine (pop. 203,914) have their share of wet wipe problems. Portland had to take out a $4.5 million dollar loan to pay for filters for its sewage pumps to prevent them from being damaged by the growing mass of wet wipes coming through their treatment plants. 
  • Eau Claire, Wisconsin - where sewer blockage "from pre-moistened wipes advertised as flushable" caused raw sewage wastewater to flow up out of a manhole at a busy intersection in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Miami, Florida - “It’s hard to believe the kind of problems that these things are creating,” said county sewage chief Lester Sola. “There are some pump stations where we have to go almost on a daily basis to solve these issues.”
And regarding other parts of the world, we previously posted about the “fatbergs” found in the sewer system coursing beneath the streets of parts of London.

In Canada, The Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG), a 25-city task force in Canada, suggests that flushed wipes do C$250M (~$230M USD) in damage annually

For more articles and examples of the problems and damage associated with wet wipes, go to the Etiquette Google+ Page.

Part of the problem involves the fact that many wipe manufacturers are claiming that their wipe product is “flushable” when it really is not. This claim is beginning to be challenged by many city officials, and as is often the case, this is getting the attention of city attorneys who are beginning to bring class-action lawsuits against wipes manufacturers for the plumbing damage and cost of repairs to city wastewater treatment plants.

As a matter of fact, on May 18, 2015, the FTC announced a settlement with the wipes manufacturer Nice-Pak Products, Inc., concerning claims that its moist wipes “break apart after being flushed” and are “safe” for sewer and septic systems.

are wet wipes flushable

New York City has spent millions in recent years on wipe-related equipment problems. The shear amount of wipe materials that must be scraped from screening machines and other sewage treatment equipment at the city’s wastewater treatment plants continues to tax the system.

People are not happy when their taxes go up in order to pay for the wet wipe filters and grinders needed to process wipes that do not disintegrate as claimed; not to mention the increased labor hours needed to manually deal with this problem.

new yorkers angry over costs of wet wipe related plumbing repairsNew Yorkers can be a tough bunch. One person who commented on this topic advised the city to filter out all the wet wipes, put them in a truck, and dump them in the executive parking lots of wet wipe manufacturers. And as if that was not enough, it was then advised that the manufacturers be sent a bill for trucking them based on the weight of the “shipment.”

Another person advised that wet wipe companies be charged for the clean-up costs based on their market share of wipes in a particular locale.

A New York doctor has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the makers of "flushable" wipes after experiencing what he claims were major plumbing issues in his home. Apparently so-called flushable wipes clogged the plumbing of his home causing damages. The lawsuit was filed in February of 2014 in the Eastern District of New York. It represents 100 people claiming that consumers around the country have suffered through clogged pipes, flooding, jammed sewers and problems with septic tanks due to the use of flushable wipes (that were not really flushable).

Some support the idea of making sure the claim that wipes are biodegradable, and therefore “flushable,” be strictly enforced. New York City politicians have proposed legislation requiring any wipe product that uses marketing indicating that the wipe will break down after being flushed would have to undergo more rigorous testing to ensure it is truly “flushable.” Wipes makers who falsely claim their products are flushable will face $5,000 fines.

New York City public officials are beginning to deal with this problem in various ways. The environmental department has begun to work on raising public awareness of this problem. And earlier this year, it was reported that Councilmen Donovan Richards (D-Queens) and Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn) led a vocal contingent of six NYC Council officials who put forth Int 0666-2015. This bill is the city's first real attempt to beat back this costly problem. It would keep the “flushable” label off any product that does not pass a third-party test approved by the environmental protection commissioner. 

flush wet wipes down toiletGovernment officials and butt wipe lobbyists are encouraging users to throw away the wipes instead of being lazy and just flushing them down the toilet. This would work if people were actually willing to retrain from doing this, but we all know that after decades of depositing used toilet paper directly into the toilet, wipes will continue to end up there as well – out of sight, out of mind.

Here at Etiquette, we believe they are, in part, going about this in the wrong way. While the information about the problem is good, their advice to throw wipes in the trash rather than flush them down the toilet ain’t gonna happen. ..Fugettaboutit.

What are the alternatives to moist or wet wipes after a “number 2” trip to the bathroom?

More and more people are realizing that regular dry toilet paper simply does not do a good enough job of cleaning your bum after going number 2.

After years of wiping their baby’s butts with wet wipes, adults started wondering, “Hey, why is my kid’s bum cleaner than mine?” As a result, adults are increasingly supplementing dry toilet paper with some type of wet or moist wipes for best bathroom cleanup. As they should, but many of these products either are not designed to be flushed, or are simply not breaking down as advertised. 

People use wet wipes for a reason, they make you cleaner. Sales of moist flushable wipes have been rising. Bloomberg reported that sales grew 23 percent from 2008 to 2013, to $367 million (presumably in the U.S.).

Regarding the different types of wet wipes in general, the market for nonwoven cloth wet wipes also continues to grow. As of this article current statistics are not yet available, however North America was the most profitable market with growth projected from $4.5 billion in 2009 to $5.5 billion in 2014. Western Europe was second with sales of $3.6 billion in 2009, which was predicted to grow to $4.2 billion in 2014.The third major market for nonwoven wipes is Asia, which was expected to expand from $1.3 billion in 2009 to almost $2 billion by 2014. Growth in South America and Eastern Europe was predicted to reach $551 million and $558 million, respectively by 2014.

This is good for wipe companies and their investors, but what about “truth in advertising?” It is now generally accepted that many toilet “wipe” products that claim to be “flushable” and biodegradable are not all they are cracked up to be.

Sure, they can be flushed alright, just like a sock can be “flushed,” but the problem lies in what happens - or doesn’t happen - after they are flushed down the toilet. Many wet wipes either are not biodegradable, and do not break apart after they are flushed away, or they take so long to break down the damage is already done.

Recent tests have called into question whether some leading brands are practicing deceptive marketing. Testing done by Consumer Reports came to a concerning conclusion after some flushable wet wipes did not disintegrate in a low speed mixer.

Whether or not wet wipes can be called "flushable" is determined by a test know as the "slosh box test." This test involves sloshing wipes back and forth in a crate of water and monitoring whether they fall apart. Critics of this test argue that it does not properly mimic the environment wipes are in as they travel through a municipality's wastewater system. They believe real life conditions are a lot gentler than those of the "slosh box test" and manufacturers are being allowed to claim flushability from the test, but in reality, the wipes are not breaking down. 

So, what is one to do....?

Some people advocate tossing used wet wipes in a trash can near the toilet. But who wants to have used wipes hanging around?

Others advocate the use of bidets as the solution to this crisis, but if Americans have not taken to bidets by now, the odds of them suddenly accepting the idea of taking a "tush-shower" after every number two are slim to none. Most people don't want their butts sprayed down after they go number two. Bidets have not caught on in America, and we do not believe they ever will.

Not to mention that you would have to pay a plumber to re-plumb your bathroom, to tie it in to the supply and waste systems, assuming you have the room for what amounts to a second toilet. 

bidet not the answer to wet wipe problem

There are bidet-like hoses you can run off the plumbing of your existing toilet if you like the idea.

Some have also advocated the use of the Japanese toilet that provides a wash and dry. Do people really want to feel like they are going through a car wash when they are on the toilet?...Answer, no.

Most people want to personally and independently attend to their bodies and make sure their hygiene meets their own specs, not the specs of a machine.

The wipe makers believe the biggest problem is people who use baby wipes designed to be wrapped up in the diaper and thrown away in the trash, not flushed down the toilet.

The president of the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry -- the largest trade group representing the wipes makers -- believes the problem lies in customers blatantly ignore that only 5 to 6 percent of wipes are manufacturer rated as flushable.

The wet wipe industry is essentially blaming its customers, arguing that the problem is people who ignore label warnings and flush wipes down the toilet that are not meant to be flushed. Blaming one’s customers is not good form.

etiquette wet wipe alternativesBlaming customers is not going to fix the problem. It’s time to think "higher" than that, and more politely. Wet wipe manufacturers need to understand, “polite is sexy.”

Wipe users intuitively believe if it’s meant to wipe their adult bottoms, it can be flushed down their adult toilet like regular toilet paper.

Here at Etiquette, we applaud the evolution of personal care to include a moist wipe for best hygiene for women and men after a trip to the bathroom for #2, but we are not fans of city sewer problems and fatbergs.

The answer to wet wipe problems lies in the use of a product that is right in front of our eyes. A product we know to be truly flushable and biodegradable. We are talking about toilet paper, of course.

The challenge has been how to conveniently and effectively apply moisture to toilet paper.

So we set out to continue the evolution of adult bathroom hygiene with a unique bathroom toilet paper moistener and wet wipe dispenser that easily and conveniently applies a natural, organic-based hygiene solution to regular toilet paper.

By convenient, we mean one should not need to use two hands and fumble with spray bottles, tubes, tubs or other containers while completing one’s business. Who wants to feel like they are washing their car when they are wiping their tush?

etiquette toilet paper moistener

We understand why adults want to apply moisture as some part of their personal care after a trip to the bathroom. We are all for it. Our customers know the advantages of a moist wipe, and are all the better for it. Many only use it as a final wipe and not every single time.

We like to think we help our customers live more confidently and bodaciously. :-)

And we are in good company, a former high-profile wipe advocate, television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, changed his position after conferring with wastewater experts. In a television segment showing his change of heart, he advised viewers to return to regular toilet paper, manually moistened if possible.

Check out this brief video in which Dr. Oz visits a waste water treatment facility. You will not believe what he sees. 

 dr oz wet wipes waste treatment plant video

etiquette wet wipe alternative products