Click here to jump to MEWEA’s “Save Your Pipes: Don’t Flush Baby Wipes” public education campaign page and download materials for your own use!
THE “WIPES” ISSUE
- * Many of these, such as baby wipes, are not intended to be flushed, but lack clear disposal instructions. The goal is to have the manufacturer’s standard “Do Not Flush” logo (shown at the right) on packaging in a prominent place.
- * Some products are not explicitly labeled as “flushable”, but are marketed in a way that implies that the wipe will break down when flushed, and the packages contain small or hidden disposal instructions, if at all.
- * Finally, the market has seen a substantial increase in the number of products marketed as “flushable”. Some of these products feature new binders that DO break down quickly, but other products with a “flushable” label don’t disperse at all. Many of these products are not tested against the manufacturer’s voluntary assessment, and would not pass it. This discrepancy and the lack of a standard definition makes it difficult to know what “flushable” means, how a product was tested, or if the package is accurate.
Products that don’t disperse often sometimes clog house or business plumbing, and/or end up in pumps, valves and equipment.
We call these products, together, “non-dispersible” rather than “flushable”, to describe the fact that they do not disperse quickly. The best standard for how “flushable” wipe products should be expected to break down is toilet paper, which is seen in the video below.
It’s important to recognize that many of the products that cause pump clogs shouldn’t be in the sewer in the first place, and to not refer to all wipes as “flushable” just because it’s easier. As noted above, many products (like baby wipes) are not marketed as “flushable” but still end up in pumps.
A survey completed by the Maine Water Environment Association in early 2011 showed that 51 of 58 respondents (nearly 90%) had suffered problems such as clogged pumps- and sewer backups from clogged pipes- in their systems that were caused by these products, including many with recurring incidents, as demonstrated in the chart below. Many towns and departments that responded to the survey say that they tried public education and outreach, with little success.
The average respondent (after subtracting out a multi-million dollar upgrade that was focused specifically on screening these products at a pump station) spent more than $40,500 fighting this issue. The need to upgrade pump stations to address the presence of these products takes funding away from much-needed infrastructure upgrades.
Maine has been working with groups around the country to gain momentum. MEWEA (then mewea) sponsored legislation (LD 781) in the 2010 session of the Maine legislature, but it was voted “Ought Not to Pass”. The timeline below will show you other activities that we’ve been involved in, including publications spearheaded by members of our association.
In January 2013, MEWEA (then mewea) helped draft the New England Water Environment Association Position Paper on “Management of Nondispersibles in Wastewater”, which you can read by clicking here. This Position Paper was adopted by Arkansas in August 2013, with more state associations planning to adopt it shortly.
We are presently working closely with the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), and the American Public Works Association (APWA) as well as wastewater associations in Arkansas, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Washington, with more states reaching out for assistance almost daily.
Together with these partners, we contributed to detailed comments that were submitted to the association that represents manufacturers of these products, INDA, on its 3rd Edition Guidance Document for Assessing the Flushability of Nonwoven Disposable Products. NACWA, WEF, APWA and the coast-to-coast team continue to work with INDA to further develop this document and be involved proactively in future Editions.
MEWEA (then mewea) completed a pilot education and awareness campaign between September 2013 and February 2014, in partnership with INDA. The campaign message is “Save Your Pipes: Don’t Flush Baby Wipes”, and focused on the service area to Portland Water District‘s Cottage Place Pump Station. Burgess Advertising and Marketing, based in Portland, assisted MEWEA and INDA with this Pilot Education Campaign. Donations to this Pilot Education Campaign from around the country can be seen here.
PUMP CLOG SOP
Clearly, MEWEA has been actively involved in addressing the impacts of wipes and similar products on collection systems. While positive momentum has developed, the efforts have not been completely successful, based partially on limited written documentation of pump clog cause/effect relationship. Further, manufacturers claim that utilities are incorrectly identifying what we’re finding in clogs, giving “flushables” a bad reputation.
To address this need, MEWEA (then mewea) developed a Pump Clogging Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) with input from the WEF Collection Systems Committee and other entities, nationally. Scott Firmin (Portland Water District) and Aubrey Strause (Verdant Water) introduced this SOP at the mewea Spring 2012 Conference in Orono, ME. The objective of the SOP is to document the specific materials that are removed from clogged pumps and other sewer obstructions in order to develop a deeper understanding of the issue and a cause/effect relationship. For example, are the products in the clog baby wipes or actually wipes marketed as “flushable”?
The data collected will help support MEWEA discussions with INDA and justify the changes that MEWEA and other groups are requesting.
Thank you for your help to document what you’re finding.
Press Release (September 18, 2013) from NACWA, WEF, APWA, and INDA
Consumer Reports: Testing Flushable Wipes (video)
Blog entry: “Wiping Up New Customers: More Wipes in Utilities’ Futures?” (September 18, 2013)
Blog entry: “In the Dyeing World of Wipes- Vancouver Puts Their Hands on Them” (September 4, 2013)
Blog entry: “Wipe Out! Keeping Wipes Out of Pipes” (August 14, 2013)
Blog entry: “The Proof is in the Flushing” (May 22, 2013)
Blog entry: “”Flushable” Wipes, Clogging Pipes“, August 17, 2012
Webcast: “Flushable or Not?” webcast from June 19, 2013 (free webcast)
Video: “Will It Flush?”
Orange County (California) Sanitation District
Video on CBS (September 24, 2013)
Articles on wipes in the news have been moved here.