The FTC Holds Makers of "Flushable" Wipes Accountable

05/21/2015 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016


Even a magic golden plunger is no match for "flushable" wet wipes. Plungers long ago gave way to workers wielding pitchforks in the battle against sewers filled with giant, clinging balls of waste known as used wet wipes. And we are paying the price.

So-called "flushable" wipes are clogging plumbing pipes, septic tanks, and sewers in all parts of the world. Using keywords "wet wipes sewer", take a journey through any search engine's photo library and see a litany of appalling photos. Pounds upon pounds of these seemingly innocent products are causing plumbing and sewer nightmares and adversely affecting taxpayers and the environment.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun to mitigate the burgeoning problem by requiring a wet wipes manufacturer to substantiate claims that its products are, in fact, flushable. That is a difficult task, since sewers have already proven that those wipes do not degrade quickly enough, if ever, to be environmentally or plumbing-system friendly.

A complaint was filed by the FTC against Nice-Pak Products, Inc., accusing Nice-Pak of misrepresentation with regards to "flushable" claims. A settlement was reached. Via the terms of the settlement, Nice-Pak will not claim that its moistened toilet tissue products are safe for sewer and septic tanks, nor will it provide its trade customers, like Target, Costco, CVS, and BJ's Wholesale Club with marketing information that perpetuates unsubstantiated "flushable" claims.

Further, Nice-Pak is prohibited from making misleading representations regarding "benefits, performance, or efficacy of moist toilet tissue", unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims.

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection stated: "The evidence didn't back up Nice-Pak's claims that their wipes were safe to flush. If you claim a product is flushable, it needs to flush in the real world, without clogging household plumbing or sewer and septic systems."

The FTC agreement will be subject to public hearing for 30 days, beginning May 19, 2015. Electronic comments are welcomed, and consumers can voice opinions on this specific issue at FTC's public comment site. Or just scroll through the public comment section on the FTC website until you find Proposed Consent Agreement: In the Matter of Nice-Pak Products, Inc.

Tackling harmful and misleading claims is not a job for the FTC alone. As consumers, it is also our job. When products don't live up to their advertised claims, or don't perform as expected, we benefit from sharing that discovery. Online complaints about products can be filed on the FTC website, or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) for assistance. The FTC is only at its best when the consumers it seeks to protect take an active role in helping to identify problem products and services. It does take a village to do a lot of things well, and monitoring the millions of products on the market is an enormous task that benefits from having millions of eyes and ears tuned in to product issues.

Perhaps if manufacturers of "flushable" wipes had to pick up a pitchfork and spend a little time in the sewer skewering the mangled, tangled mass that is their products' final form, they would quickly revise their claims. Meanwhile, we can take proactive steps to stop the problem that costs us dearly. We can simply stop flushing wet wipes of any kind. It's one thing to flush them when we are unaware that there is an unforgivable consequence of doing so, It's another thing to flush them once we know the truth. And now we know the truth.

Fortunately, there's really no need for wet wipes near the porcelain throne. A dab of Witch Hazel on regular toilet paper can perform the "fresh and clean" task just fine. As a bonus, it will do the job without exposure to unwelcome chemicals and without the potential of one day experiencing a sci-fi-like impenetrable blob that forces plumbing and sewer pipes to spew, spit, and belch back up what we have so unfortunately tossed down.