Class-Action Lawsuit Targets Makers of 'Flushable' Wipes

The lengthy discussion about wipes products and flushability got a little more heated this week.

The discussion over wipes products and “flushables” got a little more heated this week when Dr. Joseph Kurtz, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y., filed a class action lawsuit against Kimberly-Clark and Costco Wholesale in the Brooklyn Federal Court. The lawsuit seeks damages of $5 million and represents 100 people, claiming that consumers around the country have experienced flooding, clogged pipes, jammed sewers and problems with septic tanks due to disposable products labeled “flushable.” Kurtz says he paid plumbers $600 to unclog pipes in his New York and New Jersey homes.

“The defendants should have known that their representations regarding flushable wipes were false and misleading,” the complaint states. “(The wipes) do not break down as manufacturers advertise.”

Eric Bruner, a spokesperson for Kimberly-Clark, stands behind the company’s labeling standards.

“Kimberly-Clark has an extensive testing process to ensure that our flushable wipes products meet or exceed all industry guidelines,” he says. “We stand behind our claims of flushability. Beyond that, as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

The lawsuit is just another component in a lengthy discussion between wipes manufacturers and those who deal with them once they’re flushed, including plumbers, septic tank pumpers, collection system workers and treatment plant operators.

“The word ‘flushable’ means it won’t clog your toilet or your house,” says Deputy Commissioner Vincent Sapienza of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in an interview with ABC News. “But when it gets to a sewage treatment plant, the wipes wrap around the equipment, shut it down, and then the treatment plant workers go and manually pull these wipes out.”

The New York DEP and other utilities around the country recommend that people do not flush wipes, and instead dispose of them in the garbage. Until now, the wastewater industry has relied on public education to modify consumer behavior. Industry educational efforts, including a joint pilot program between the Maine WasteWater Control Association and the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, continue to focus on proper disposal.

Later this year, the Water Environmental Association and the American Public Works Association are expected to meet with product manufacturers to determine what the term “flushable” should mean. Until then, we’ll have to watch and wait to see what the courts say about the issue, and whether consumers are beginning to stand up and take note.

Could this lawsuit be the tipping point for the wipes discussion? It’s the first time a consumer has proactively addressed the issue of “flushable” wipes, so it, in some respects, marks a new level of intensity in the discussion.

Could this be the tipping point for the “flushables” discussion? Have problems with disposable wipes increased or decreased at your plant in the past few months?


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