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New wet wipe product still blocks drains

Testing shows a new wet wipe product labelled as 'flushable' still fails to live up to its name.

Kleenex released the 'new and improved' wipe at the end of May after coming under fire last year for contributing to sewer blockages weighing as much as a tonne and costing the water utilities millions of dollars.

But problems remain with the new wet wipe, said Sydney Water Senior Media and Public Relations Advisor Peter Hadfield.

“Our testing and [consumer advocacy group] CHOICE’s testing demonstrates the new product does not break down like toilet paper and should not be flushed,” he said.

The new wipes are paper-based and contain no synthetic fibres, unlike the original product which was made from a woven material.

Kleenex's website states: “they pass all seven of the industry tests which means that they are in full compliance with INDA and EDANA flushability guidelines, the most widely used industry guidelines on flushability. There is currently no official Australian guideline on flushability.”

The manufacturer added that users should only flush a maximum of two wipes at a time and that they were only suitable for use in “properly maintained sewerage systems and commercial septic systems”.

But testing showed the wipes still posed a blockage threat, particularly in the first several metres of pipe on a consumer's property.

“While the new wipes did break apart under agitation much more readily and rapidly than the previous generation wipes, they broke apart much more slowly and to a much smaller degree than toilet paper,” CHOICE reported.

“The larger fragments of the wipes had retained sufficient tensile strength, integrity and size to still potentially snag on an obstacle.

“If such sheets were flushed down a toilet regularly, it is possible that over time the fragments could form a blockage in a sewerage system.”

Testing involved placing the new wipes in an agitator device provided by Sydney Water for 21 hours at a speed of 100rpm.

Despite ongoing concerns with the wipes, Sydney Water did commend Kimberly-Clark for its commitment to improving labelling.

“We now call on the rest of the wipes manufacturing and retail industry to quickly follow the positive lead of Kimberly-Clark/Kleenex and commit to developing clearer packaging guidelines,” Hadfield said.

“We also call on all wipes manufacturers to either remove the term ‘flushable’ from their packaging and marketing of all of their flushable wipes products, or to create a wipe which breaks down in the same manner as toilet paper.”

Sydney Water estimated it cost $8 million per year to remove wet wipes from its network.

CHOICE has filed a submission with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about the marketing of ‘flushable’ wipes.

Sydney Water is assisting the ACCC in their investigations on behalf of all Australian water utilities and their customers.