The wipes market and the uses for wipes has exploded. A stroll down any supermarket aisle now reveals wet wipes for make-up removal, toddlers' noses, floor cleaning, toilet cleaning, toilet training and even (wait for it...) adult bums – promising to leave users "extra clean and fresh".
To make things even easier for us consumers, we're told (on the packaging) that many of these wipes are now "flushable", which means rather than using the bin, you can toss it into the toilet and flush it out of your life just like toilet paper.
But according to New Zealand's water service providers, who are spending an estimated $16 million a year and growing, to clear blockages, say they are largely caused by wet wipes about 75% of all sewer blockages involve wet wipes.
Karl Geiseler at Biolytix who manufactures wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks, and who are also involved with servicing these systems , says the main problem the industry is facing is with bloody 'Wet Wipes' being disposed of down the loo which end up in the tanks!
"When normal toilet paper comes into contact with water, it pulls apart and deteriorates, like most paper products. However, wet wipes (or disposable wipes), by contrast, are designed to maintain their consistency when soaked. This may be good for your cleaning purposes, but have a negative and costly impact on all septic and wastewater treatment systems."
"When you flush wet wipes down the toilet, you’re sending a soggy, solid mass down the drain which often causes blockages. When inside the tanks, they do not breakdown. These need to be removed at a cost and then sent to the landfill where they become someone else's problem," says Geiseler.
The Australian Water regulator isn't too impressed either. On 12 December 2016, it announced impending court action against flushable wipes makers Kimberly-Clark Australia and Pental for making false or misleading claims by saying their products disintegrate as well as toilet paper.
However, in June 2019 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has lost the first battle against 'flushable' wet wipes clogging up Australian pipes. Many wipes don't even make it off the property where they've been flushed. When this happens, it's the property owner who's liable for the cost of removing the blockage.
In 2015, Consumer New Zealand found that 11 flushable wipes did not break down easily, and advised against flushing any wipes. In March, Nelson councilor Matt Lawrey put a motion to the council to begin "a bit of a campaign" on the issue. The council planned to write to manufacturers and distributors of wet wipes to request changes to the labeling of packaging to clearly show that wipes should not be flushed.
Then in December 2018, the biggest fatberg in the history of the UK was discovered in a sewer in Sidmouth, Devon.
The block of hardened fat, oil and wet-wipes longer than six double-decker buses took workers eight weeks to cut up and remove the 64-metre “fatberg” from the sewer beneath The Esplanade in Sidmouth.
South West Water said a fatberg forms like a snowball – wet-wipes flushed down toilets congeal with fats, oil and grease, gradually forming a hard mass. The removal, which will be carried out by workers in full breathing apparatus, is due to begin next month but could be delayed if there is heavy rain.
So, in January 2019 Water UK’s Fine to Flush certification was released in order to clarify what is truly flushable and what isn’t – many wipes on the market that claim to be ‘flushable’ are actually full of plastics or wood pulps that don’t break down sufficiently in the sewers.
Water UK developed the standard together with the Water Research Centre (WRc) and water companies across the UK. The Water Research Centre (WRc) undertakes the Fine to Flush testing.
Andy Drinkwater, the WRc’s lead engineer for Sewage and Flooding, commented: “Wet wipes along with fat, oils and grease have been a major issue for water and sewerage companies. Our new universal standard accurately analyses what is happening in the drains so that consumers can be better informed of what products are safe to flush.”
In 2018 retail adult incontinence and personal wipes achieved the strongest retail value growth as convenience became a crucial trend, whilst the aging population of New Zealand and Australia remains a permanent factor influencing retail adult incontinence sales.
Tissue and hygiene are yet to see a shift to sustainable or environmentally friendly products. Although this trend is already present in other industries such as home care, innovation around environmental sustainability in tissue and hygiene is limited and consumers are therefore less aware of the options available.
New Zealand is currently in the midst of a population boom, with high levels of immigration seeing population growth reached its highest ever levels in 2018. The relatively high levels of economic and political stability continued to make the country an attractive proposition to migrants, particularly from Asian countries.
The wet wipe issue has even captivated several celebrities and now famous names including Will.I.Am, Will Smith and Terence Howard are all advocating a proper toilet cleansing routine.
In fact, Will Smith likes a clean bum so much he says he swears by using wet wipes and hailing it as 'special and incredible'.
"I'm the type of person that it's important for me to share. When I experience something that's special and incredible, I like to share it with people. Anyone who's using dry toilet paper, you're really not doing yourself the true service," he told BBC's Radio 1.
Similarly, Black Eyed Peas star Will.I.Am echoed Smith's sentiments and left us all picturing him wiping his anus when he gave the following statement:
"Here's proof on why people should have baby wipes. Get some chocolate, wipe it on a wooden floor, and then try to get it up with some dry towels. You're going to get chocolate in the cracks," the vocalist said in an interview.
"That's why you gotta get them baby wipes."