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Outrage Following Court's Decision On Flushing Wet Wipes

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has lost the first battle against 'flushable' wet wipes clogging up Australian pipes.

The ACCC had taken Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd  to the Federal Court, alleging that they made false or misleading representations in relation to ‘flushable’ wipes marketed and supplied in Australia.

The ACCC alleged that by labelling these products as “flushable”, consumers were led to believe the products had similar characteristics to toilet paper, would break up or disintegrate in a timeframe and manner similar to toilet paper, and were suitable to be flushed down the toilet, when this was not the case.

“We argued that Kimberly-Clark’s wipes did not break apart quickly once flushed and therefore should not have been considered ‘flushable’,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

Wipes being removed in Rouse Hill. Photo: Supplied
Wipes removal in Rouse Hill. Photo: Supplied

But the court did not agree, and sided with Kimberly-Clark.

In a statement, Justice Jacqueline Gleeson dismissed the ACCC application and ordered the consumer watchdog to pay costs.

The ACCC said "the Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to show that Kleenex Cottonelle ‘flushable’ wipes in this case, as opposed to ‘wipes’ products more broadly, had contributed to the problems in municipal sewerage systems."

“The ACCC is carefully considering the Court’s decision,” Sims said.

The decision has outraged environmental and advocacy groups across Australia.

READ MORE: Fatbergs Are Taking Over Aussie Sewers, But What Are They?

Head of Campaigns and Policy at CHOICE Sarah Agar said the decision was disappointing with the wet wipes issue a detriment to the community.

“This is terrible news for people who care about the environment and our waterways" she said.

Wipes littered across a creek in Australia. Photo: Supplied

"CHOICE is warning Australians not to flush wipes, following this disappointing court decision that means flushable wipe companies won’t be held to account for clogged sewers, damaged waterways and terrible plumbing bills for Australians."

CHOICE applauded the ACCC for 'taking on tough cases like this and a strong consumer regulator will have wins and losses along the way'.

The ACCC said while its case about the 'flushable' wipes had been dismissed, the watchdog said "the Court did find Kimberly-Clark made a false representation when it claimed its wipes were made in Australia" when they were made in countries including Germany, South Korea and the UK.

"A hearing on relief in relation to Kimberly-Clark’s ‘made in Australia’ claims will be held at a later date," the ACCC said.

Sydney Water claimed in April 2018 that 500 tonnes of the product were removed from sewers each year, costing millions of dollars, after the Federal Court penalised another company $700,000 in a similar but separate case.

"Remember the three Ps – the only things that you should flush down your toilet are pee, poo and (toilet) paper," a spokesperson said last year.

Wet wipes have become a global issue, reportedly behind 93 percent of blockages in UK sewers, ND are even changing the shapes of rivers as they pile onto banks.