Federal Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act Reflects NACWA Input on Wipes

(February 12, 2020) – The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, introduced in the Senate on February 11, became the first federal bill that would address the labeling of wipes. The bill seeks to limit waste from plastic products by phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic products, reducing plastic packaging, and holding manufacturers responsible for reducing plastic waste and recycling. Wipes are designed and used as a single-use product, and most wipes are made from plastics. 

Wipes have been a major focus of NACWA’s Toilets Are Not Trashcans campaign due to the problems caused when wipes are flushed into the sewer system. These problems include the clogging of pumps and other wastewater equipment and the formation of “fatbergs” when wipes combine with fats, oils and grease. 

NACWA worked with the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA) and other organizations on the language in the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act to address the labeling of flushable and non-flushable wipes. The Act would require that all non-flushable wipes be labeled with a “Do Not Flush” logo according to the  2nd Edition Code of Practice: Communicating Appropriate Disposal Pathways for Nonwoven Wipes to Protect Wastewater Systems (COP), published by the wipes industry associations.

NACWA worked with the wipes associations and other water sector groups on this COP to ensure that the “Do Not Flush” logo would be prominently displayed on wipes packages and not camouflaged with the package artwork.

The Act would also require that all wipes labeled “flushable” meet the specifications of the International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG).  NACWA and CASA are members of the IWSFG, and the flushability specifications of the IWSFG require that wipes break down quickly and completely after flushing. In addition, the Act requires that wipes labeled “flushable” not contain any plastic or regenerated cellulose, a material that may not biodegrade easily in natural environments. 

Legislation on wipes appears to be gaining momentum, with state legislation in California and Washington advancing last month. The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is an important first step towards addressing the wipes issue nationally. 

For more information about NACWA’s work on the wipes issue, please contact Cynthia Finley