Consumer watchdog takes action over flushable wipes

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A MAJOR contributor of blockages in Brisbane’s sewer network could be wiped out under a decision by the consumer watchdog to take “flushable” wet-wipes suppliers to court.

Queensland Urban Utilities is set to save $1.5 million a year thanks to the action and have welcomed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commissions move to instigate legal proceedings against Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd and Pental Limited.

The watchdog claims the companies made false or misleading representations in relation to flushable wipes they marketed and supplied in Australia.

The action follows a complaint by consumer group Choice, which singled out Kimberly-Clarks Flushable Wipes for Kids for a Shonky Award in 2015.

Queensland Urban Utilities spokeswoman Michelle Cull said the court action was a positive step towards solving a big problem for sewer pipes.

Wet wipes, including those labelled flushable, dont disintegrate quickly like toilet paper and can lead to costly blockages in our network, Ms Cull said.

We spend around $1.5 million every year clearing blockages from our sewers.

We also remove around 20 million wet wipes from our sewage treatment plants annually, which laid end-to-end would stretch from Brisbane to Bali.

Labelling can be confusing for shoppers, so we welcome the ACCCs decision and will be following the matter with interest.

In a statement, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said consumers were led to believe the product would break down like toilet paper once flushed, but this was not the case.

Australian water authorities face significant problems when non-suitable products are flushed down the toilet as they contribute to blockages in household and municipal sewerage systems, Mr Sims said.

In both proceedings, the ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, injunctions, corrective notices, compliance program orders and costs.

Between May 2013 and May 2016, the ACCC alleges Kimberly-Clark advertised its Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths as flushable, completely flushable, able to be flushed in the toilet, and able to break down in sewerage system or septic tank.

In the case against Pental, the ACCC alleges that between February 2011 and August 2016, the company advertised its White King Power Clean Flushable Toilet Wipes as a flushable toilet wipe that disintegrated like toilet paper.

A Kimberly-Clark spokeswoman said: Kimberly-Clark stands by the claims we made about the flushability of our Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths, which were supplied up until May 2016.

Our claims that these products are flushable are accurate and the proceedings will be defended on that basis.

These products and the current Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Wipes meet or exceed the requirements set out in the INDA/EDANA Flushability guidelines, which are the only widely accepted guidelines for assessing flushability.

The ACCC also alleged that Kimberly-Clark advertised that these products were made in Australia when that was not the case.

Choice welcomed the legal action. The group said its tests found the wipes held together for 21 hours, while toilet paper dissolves in a few minutes. Our tests clearly show that flushable products stink, Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.