Why flushable wipes aren't really flushable
May 19, 2015
As the team at ABC's The Checkout recently demonstrated, Kleenex so-called flushable wipes should come with a product warning stating that wipes may not break down as advertised! Say what?
The term flushable wipes is another one of those ambiguous greenwashing words that marketers use because they're playing on your natural assumptions.
Your mobile phone is flushable. So is your wedding ring. Both these items can technically be flushed all the way down the toilet, through the pipes until it hits the treatment plant. Like your wedding ring, flushable wipes are technically I to be flushed, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea!
Flushable doesn't necessarily mean biodegradable and vice versa
At least, not as biodegradable as toilet paper, which is what one might naturally assume. Toilet paper will break down and disintegrate in around 30 seconds in water.
At best, flushable wipes can take up to 30 minutes to break down in your toilet, though tests show some brands failing to disintegrate after weeks or even months sitting in water. Many of these so called flushable wipes contain synthetic materials which could take years to break down.
Flushable wipes are creating a huge problem in our sewer system
Around a million kilograms of wet wipes were removed from Sydney sewers alone in two years. The financial cost is in the tens of millions already. The environmental cost of synthetic materials in our waterways and wipes making it through the network interfering with the ecology is immeasurable.
Before they even get to the sewer system, flushable wipes need to travel through the pipes in your house which is where many blockages occur, costing you lots of money when you've got to call a plumber out.
What's the solution to flushable wipes?
Look for certifications
Look for certified flushable wipes, like these ones from Natracare. They're Certified Fine to Flush by WATER UK.
That would be the logical solution if you can't go without your cleansing wipes next to the toilet. If they're biodegradable, the wipes will break down eventually, without putting immediate pressure on our sewage systems and water ways.
Some eco friendly biodegradable wipes are completely compostable, though be mindful that the bacteria in human poo is less likely to be broken down in your normal kitchen garden compost - it's better left to purpose-built composting toilets.
Use toilet paper and keep a spray bottle of water next to the toilet to moisten the toilet paper.
Or install a bidet, like many European countries do.
Watch out for baby wipes
The same issues that relate to the Kleenex wipes for adults apply to baby wipes, too. Don't flush them, bin the pooey ones and compost the rest.
When you're choosing wipes, make sure you buy certified biodegradable wipes from a trustworthy manufacturer. You'll want to research the company and their methods or rely on a trusted source - truly eco friendly companies are transparent about their processes and are proud to share with the consumer.
As always, be sure to check the ingredients. Wipes that are marketed as 'alcohol-free' may simply be ethanol free. Instead they may contain alcohols such as benzyl alcohol which is less allergenic than other alcohols, but is nonetheless an alcohol and may be an irritant to baby's delicate skin and yours. Others may contain synthetically manufactured ingredients and fragrances.
To reduce your environmental impact even further, you can try reusable wipes for baby. Often made from eco friendly bamboo, organic cotton jersey or terry cloth, reusable baby wipes are not only better for the environment, they'll save you a tonne of money too!
Simply wash as you would cloth nappies and reuse with water or your own home made wipes formula. To check how soft a reusable baby wipe would feel on your baby's bottom, try it yourself on the inside of your upper arm.
If you're looking for eco wipes, save yourself some research time, and check out Hello Charlie's Cheat Sheet on safer baby wipes. We've done all the hard work for you.
Or jump straight to Hello Charlie's collection of Australia's safest baby wipes, where you can buy all the best brands, fully researched so that you don't have to!