March 16 2017
Regulators must think they need to bolster their collective bad reputations as the worst sort of busybodies. Showing that no issue is too small, regulators in the nation’s capital have prohibited labeling flushable wipes – a useful product loved by mothers of infants and messy toddlers to the elderly, and everyone in between – as “flushable”, effectively creating a ban on local sales for this nationally marketed consumer good.
Other cities are likely to follow in Washington DC’s footsteps. In fact, in New York City, council member Donovan Richards has already introduced a bill to ban the sale of flushable wipes, wrongly claiming they do not dissolve in sewer systems.
It’s a familiar, though entirely false, criticism. Those who oppose these convenient products suggest flushable wipes are contributing to the increasingly disgusting problem of citywide sewer blockages. Yet, they overlook another, very similar product, that’s far more likely to be causing the problem—baby wipes and cleaning wipes, which are not flushable because they contain plastic filaments that do not break down in sewers. Flushable wipes do not contain plastic and are designed to disaggregate in sewer systems.
These facts appear to matter little to D.C. politicians who in December passed the first ever ban on the sale of flushable wipes until sewer and infrastructure officials get around to developing citywide “flushable” standards (apparently, unlike immigration policy, it’s okay for government officials to “pause” on government policies governing the type of wipe one uses in the bathroom).
Yet, sadly for DC residents, these flushable standards won’t be developed anytime soon. It’s common knowledge that city water authority staff is already stretched so thin that they simply won’t be able to take on these standard setting responsibilities. What’s even more galling is that the Federal Trade Commission has already established a national standard for flushable wipes, making these DC-specific standards unnecessary.
While sewage problems are indeed a worthy cause for city officials’ attention, it’s important to not throw the baby products out with the bathwater. In a recent sewage test in New York City, only two percent of the sewage blockage residue came from flushable wipes while a full 33 percent was made up of the plastic filament contained in non-flushable baby wipes. Perhaps a better use of resources would be to urge people not to flush the products that are intended for the garbage rather than the toilet?
Politicians would also do well to remember why certain products are developed in the first place: in response to genuine consumer interest. Flushable wipes are popular with mothers of young children and with those who care for the elderly. The unintended consequences of this measure should also be considered. This ban will result in the greater use of non-flushable wipes, like baby wipes and chlorine-based cleaning wipes (which are not banned). In fact, it’s likely people will start flushing more of these wipes instead of the flushable alternative, which will only exacerbate the problems with the city’s sewers.
Naturally, environmentalists are on the wrong side of this issue, applauding the ban when they should be vocally opposed to the waste that this ban will create. Flushable wipes are biodegradable and cut down on the water usage related to using non-disposable washcloths in place of flushable wipes. Where are the environmentalists on water waste and the needed infrastructure repairs that will inevitably result from this ban?
The anti-flushable wipe fervor that is sweeping city councils and state legislatures isn’t just a waste of time and resources; It is a perfect example of the smallness and intransigence of big government. Politicians see nothing wrong with stepping in to fix a problem that doesn’t exist and creating a solution that will result in substantial and unintended human costs, while making society’s problem far worse.
No wonder so many Americans wish they could flush the political class and start anew.
Julie Gunlock is the mother of three messy boys and is a fan of flushable wipes. She writes for the Independent Women’s Forum.