NACWA: State bills to address wipes gain traction

State bills to address the labeling of wipes continue to gain momentum, with a bill in Washington state passing both legislative bodies and another bill introduced in Minnesota, said the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).

Washington’s bill, HB 2565, requires “Do Not Flush” logos on non-flushable wipes, with language to specify the size, placement and contrast of the logo. The bill does not set a standard for using the term “flushable” on packaging. The bill passed through the legislature with overwhelming support, with votes of 36-10 in the Senate and 93-4 in the House. Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill.

In Minnesota, HF 3181, and its Senate companion, SF 3139, address both labeling of non-flushable wipes and flushability standards for wipes labeled “flushable.” The bill uses the Code of Practice (2nd Edition) published by the wipes industry associations as the basis for the non-flushable wipes labeling guidelines. NACWA worked with the wipes associations and other water sector groups on this Code of Practice to ensure that the “Do Not Flush” logo would be prominently displayed on wipes packages. For the flushability standard, the bill references the Federal Trade Commission consent decree with wipes manufacturer Nice-Pak, which contains a qualitative description of flushability.

The issue of wipes has been one that has plagued the wastewater sector for years. Wipes — such as baby wipes and those used for cleaning — are made of nonwoven fabrics, and manufacturers have generally attempted to design them so they can be flushed. NACWA told Water Finance & Management in 2019 that although many brands of wipes label their products as “flushable,” the reality is that no wipes are flushable because they do not break down in the same manner as, say, toilet paper.

Ultimately, the problem of sewer system and grinder pump clogging has been exacerbated by wipes.

“In our view, no wipes on the market in the U.S. are flushable at this point,” said Cynthia Finley, NACWA’s director of regulatory affairs. “We’ve found that wipes, especially baby wipes and cleaning wipes, are so strong that they can cause issues with pumps and other equipment the fastest. Even wipes labeled as flushable, though they’re not as bad as the baby wipes, can still cause pumps to increase power usage and they’ll also accumulate within the pump.”

Finley added one of the biggest challenges surrounding the issue is the simple fact that it’s difficult for the waterworks industry to get the proper messaging out to the public that in fact no wipes should be flushed. She said that a lot of work has been done on the issue and progress has been made through NACWA’s collaboration with water sector organizations and the nonwoven fabrics industry, culminating in the above-mentioned Code of Practice developed in 2017.

Since then, states have taken legislative steps that would establish more effective labeling requirements. NACWA said it will continue to work with its members and state associations to advance state legislation to address the wipes issue. NACWA said members interested in the issue may contact Cynthia Finley.

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