2 Jul 2015

Think before you flush those wipes

8:40 am on 2 July 2015

Plumbers and local authorities say consumers need to question what "flushable" means after concerns were raised over wet wipes clogging sewerage pipes.

Toilet wet wipes

Photo: RNZ / Shannon Gillies

The wipes, which are commonly used when changing nappies, have been clogging up drains and sewerage systems, costing homeowners and ratepayers money, according to councils around the country.

The Marlborough District Council has already appealed for people to stop flushing wet wipes down the toilet, saying they are overloading Blenheim's sewers.

The Master Plumbers organisation and local authorities also said consumers need to be more aware of what they put down their toilets.

Ian Pauley has been a plumber for 30 years, specialising in clearing and repairing drains.

He said people could not trust that disposable wipes sold as flushable are in fact designed as such.

"We take hundreds and hundreds of these things out on a daily basis and I believe they're not designed to go down a drain.

"They say that they're biodegradable but [so is] nuclear waste given enough time."

He said older homes with drains that have rough surfaces were the worst hit.

Master Plumbers board member Mark Whitehead said disposable wipes and flushable wet wipes do not break down and people need to realise what they are doing when they hit flush.

"It's all semantics isn't it ...it is a flushable product but it doesn't do what it's required to do and if the consumer was more aware of that maybe they'd treat it differently."

He said companies that produced the wipes needed to tell customers how to dispose of them safely.

"I think it's the responsibility of those people who produce them to educate people appropriately.

"Maybe local authorities need to do more around education into how to dispose of some of those objects. I think it's just taken for granted that our systems can cope with it but things are not the same throughout New Zealand unfortunately."

Wellington Water said the cost of fixing problems that stemmed from wipes was increasing.

The New Plymouth council also said the issue of wet wipe disposal had been raised as something all councils will eventually have to deal with.

Queenstown Lakes District Council communications manager Michelle Poole said the council had started an education programme to help reduce the use of disposable wipes.

"We ran some stories with some fairly nasty photographs of clogged up pipes and pumps.

"We had a display at the Wanaka A&P show last year where we mocked up a section of blocked up sewer pipe to show people exactly what it looked like and we will certainly be doing more because it's a continuing issue - it's certainly not confined to Queenstown."

Kimberly-Clark makes Kleenex and Huggies wet wipes, including both flushable and non-flushable types.

In a written statement, the company said its flushable cleansing cloths were biodegradable and met industry guidelines for flushability.

However, the company said sewerage systems were different in each area and that was why it recommended no more than two wipes be flushed at once.