Mohave County
May 2024
Volume 24 Issue 3

‘Flushable’ wipes harming wastewater infrastructure with costly consequences

Health, January 2024, Journal | 0 comments

January 2024

MOHAVE COUNTY — A growing problem is surfacing in sewer systems across the United States, including in Mohave County, due to the widespread use of so-called “flushable” wipes. Marketed for their convenience and safe disposability, these wipes are proving to be anything but harmless to wastewater infrastructure. Their impact is seen in clogged pumps, sewage back-ups, and a significant financial burden for both utilities and consumers.
Despite what the label says, “flushable” wipes are not breaking down easily in the sewer system. Comprising a variety of products like baby wipes, household cleaning wipes, facial wipes, and healthcare wipes, these items are often made with degradable plastic fibers. This material choice makes them tough, durable, and, consequently, a challenge for sewer systems. Unlike toilet paper, which is designed to disintegrate effectively in wastewater treatment systems, these wipes persist, leading to blockages and equipment damage.
The issue extends beyond Mohave County, with communities nationwide facing similar challenges. The cost implications are substantial, running into billions of dollars each year. This financial strain is a direct consequence of the additional maintenance required to manage the impact of these wipes on sewer systems. It raises questions about consumer awareness and the responsibility of manufacturers in accurately labeling their products.
The problem of flushable wipes in sewer systems is multi-faceted, involving manufacturer responsibility, consumer behavior, and inadequate wastewater utility infrastructure. Manufacturers often market these wipes as being sewer-friendly, a claim that stands in stark contrast to their actual environmental impact. Consumers, lured by the convenience of these products, frequently dispose of them in toilets, unaware of the repercussions on sewer systems. Meanwhile, the existing wastewater infrastructure, which varies significantly in design and capacity across different regions, struggles to handle these non-degradable products.
This situation is not showing signs of improvement. Instead, the issue is worsening due to the increasing popularity of these products and a general lack of consumer awareness about their environmental impact.
The financial implications are severe for wastewater utilities. They are spending millions of dollars responding to overflows, cleaning out pipes, pumps, and treatment plants. This expenditure comes at a time when many communities are already dealing with aging infrastructure and tight budgets. The added financial strain of managing the impact of flushable wipes is a significant concern.
Legal challenges have also emerged, with several class action lawsuits initiated by homeowners who have faced problems in their own systems due to these products. These lawsuits underscore the growing frustration over the misleading labeling of these wipes and the subsequent costs borne by consumers.
The issue highlights the need for responsible consumption and infrastructure planning and serves as a reminder that consumer products, despite their perceived benefits, can have unintended and costly consequences.
— Jeremy Webb.

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