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January 31, 2014

The Water Haller – Executive Director Robert Haller

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To Flush or Not to Flush?

You would have noticed a number of articles on the topic of so-called "flushable" wipes in the last Bulletin as there has been a flurry of news items across the country. We have to thank Barry Orr (London), Jennifer Leno (Cobourg) and the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG) for launching the information campaign and building the awareness around this issue.

The flushable wipes industry is a multi-billion dollar per year industry and their popularity is growing rapidly with new advertising campaigns depicting the toilet as a convenient waste disposal site. Meanwhile, MESUG estimates (conservatively) that Canadian municipalities spend more than $250 million on repairs, replacement, and additional maintenance in reaction to these wipes jamming up our systems. There is great concern over the use of the word "flushable" on a product that has no municipally-approved  testing or verification. It is not just these wipes marked flushable, but the confusion in the marketplace with the other wipes on the shelf labeled "disposable" or "biodegradable." None of these terms mean they can make it through our wastewater collection systems and  therefore we have great concern for the marketing and misleading labeling of these products as such.

While we have initiated discussions with the flushable wipe’s industry association (INDA), we have not yet been satisfied with their testing protocols or voluntary guidelines. The long-term solution certainly will lie in a cooperative effort between the manufacturers, the retailers and the municipal utilities. But the basis of moving forward must be an agreed upon definition of the term "flushable." Once we have a solid definition, then we can agree upon labelling, guidelines, regulations and enforcement.  

To that end, MESUG has approached CWWA to direct an effort to develop a national standard; and perhaps an international standard. We have begun discussions with ISO Technical Committee 224 to request the development of technical specifications. We have also been working with the CSA Group to determine a process for creating a Canadian standard. There are costs involved in developing a standard, so as we progress, we will need your support — but as they say, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."      


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