Calling for an investigation into ‘flushable’ wipes

Photo by MPCA Photos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Program area – Healthy communities Status: In progress
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In 2019, a study out of Ryerson University made an alarming finding: Wipes, cloths, diaper liners and other products marketed as “flushable” in Canada are not in fact safe to flush down the toilet. When these products are improperly flushed, they contribute to blocking sewage systems and pollute lakes, rivers and oceans.

Unlike toilet paper, flushable wipes don’t break down in sewers and waterways. These single-use products lead to sewage clogs and can form the core of fatbergs, large masses of solid waste consisting of congealed fat and personal care products that block pipes and cause flooding. They discharge from sewers during sewer overflows and enter lakes, rivers and oceans, polluting these waterways with litter, microplastics, and microfibers, and harming wildlife.

These blockages have environmental and economic costs. Flushed wipes cause an estimated $250 million in damage each year to municipal sewer systems in Canada. But this isn’t the consumer’s fault.

Companies shouldn’t be allowed to mislead consumers by falsely labelling their products. Proper labelling would help ensure proper disposal, keeping these wipes out of our waterways and away from our wildlife.

In response, Ecojustice filed an application on behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada, seeking an investigation by the Competition Bureau into false and misleading claims made by the manufacturers of 23 so-called flushable wipes and other single-use products.

We said marketing products as “flushable” is false and misleading. Furthermore, we asserted, there are environmental and cost consequences associated with consumers believing and acting on those claims.

This inquiry is an important step to hold manufacturers of single-use wipes to account for the damage that these products can do.

The Competition Bureau is the public watchdog charged with investigating false or misleading marketing practices by private business. Depending on what the bureau’s inquiry concludes, flushable wipe manufacturers and distributors could also face millions of dollars in fines for false or misleading advertising.

Thousands of Ecojustice supporters joined our calls for an investigation, mobilizing to ask the Commissioner of Competition to hold the makers of “flushable” wipes to account. Our #TheseWipesAreNotFlushable campaign also received support from The City of Lethbridge and the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association supported our application to the Competition Bureau.

As a result, the Commissioner responded by ordering an inquiry a few months later.

Ecojustice is currently waiting for the results of the inquiry.

Key developments

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