We all know that toilets are for flushing the three P's only: pee, poo, and (toilet) paper. Anything else can pose a pricey problem for your plumbing and the planet.
But that hasn't stopped some manufacturers of wet wipes confusing the message with claims their products, too, can simply be flushed away. One of those companies was slapped with a significant penalty on Thursday by the Federal Court for misleading advertising.
Pental Limited and Pental Products Pty Ltd is the manufacturer behind White King's "flushable" toilet and bathroom cleaning wipes. It's been ordered to pay penalties totalling $700,000 for making false and misleading representations about its product; namely, that it would disintegrate in the sewage system "just like toilet paper".
Packaging and promotional materials for the White King wipes included statements like “flushable”, “Simply wipe over the hard surface of the toilet … and just flush away”, and “White King Toilet Wipes are made from a specially designed material, which will disintegrate in the sewage system when flushed, just like toilet paper”.
Those statements, the Federal Court ruled, are false.
"These White King wipes can’t be flushed down the toilet, and Australian wastewater authorities face significant problems if they are because they can cause blockages in household and municipal sewerage systems,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
In addition to the penalties, Pental has been ordered to implement a compliance program.
The move has been welcomed by water and waste management services.
Sydney Water spokesman Jackson Vernon said blockages from wipes have been an issue for several years now. "It’s costing the community millions of dollars every year to deal with the blockages these products cause in the wastewater system," he said.
Queensland Urban Utilities spokeswoman Michelle Cull said it was a "real win" for sewers.
“We remove around 160 tonnes of wipes from our sewerage network every year. Laid end-to-end, that’s enough to stretch all the way from Brisbane to Bali.
“We spend around $1.5 million a year clearing blockages from our sewer pipes and wet wipes are a big contributing factor.”
The ACCC took action against Pental and another wipes manufacturer, Kimberly-Clark Australia, following a complaint by consumer advocacy group Choice, which gave a “Shonky Award” to Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths for Kids in 2015.
Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said the false claims were a "grubby marketing tactic" that left "households, local councils and water services organisations having to struggle with the cost of removing these wipes from the sewage system".
The ACCC has separate ongoing proceedings against Kimberly-Clark.
Sydney Water is now calling on the rest of the wipes manufacturing and retail industry to include prominent 'do not flush’ messaging on the packaging of their bathroom products.
“The international water industry has collectively committed to a position statement that all wipes and personal hygiene products should be clearly marked 'do not flush' and be disposed of in the bin.
"This position statement is supported by over 300 utilities and non-government organisations from 23 countries,” Mr Vernon said.
"Sydney Water hopes this judgment reinforces our message to the community that wipes should not go down toilets and drains and we support any moves by manufacturers that help in this area.”
Fairfax Media has approached Pental for comment.