NACWA Continues Wipes Advocacy After Reaching Milestones in 2022
NACWA’s advocacy on wipes has marked several milestones in 2022. Working with the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the American Public Works Association (APWA), and other water associations, NACWA ramped up its advocacy efforts on the wipes issue beginning in 2013, identifying three actions that needed to occur to reduce problems caused by wipes for utilities: (1) Improved “Do Not Flush” labeling on non-flushable wipes; (2) Making flushable wipes that are truly flushable available to consumers; and (3) Public education on proper flushing habits. This year, significant progress occurred in each of these areas.
On July 1, new wipes labeling laws went into effect in Washington, Oregon, California, and Illinois. These laws all require “Do Not Flush” labeling on non-flushable wipes, such as baby wipes and cleaning wipes. NACWA congratulates the utilities and associations in these states for their success with these laws. The improved “Do Not Flush” labeling required in these states will likely become the standard used by wipes manufacturers on their products sold nationwide.
Wipes manufacturers began supporting public education on flushing practices as part of the California labeling law. The Responsible Flushing Alliance (RFA) kicked off its #FlushSmart public education campaign at the end of June to coincide with the labeling laws going into effect. The RFA has educational resources available to utilities on its website.
In addition to improved labeling on non-flushable wipes, flushable wipes that are safe for sewer systems are making their way to the market. As a result of a lawsuit brought by Charleston Water Services, Kimberly Clark entered a settlement agreement requiring its flushable wipes to meet the flushability specification of the International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG) by May 1, 2022. NACWA is a member of the IWSFG and supports its flushability specifications. NicePak, another major wipes manufacturer, has also announced an improved flushable wipe. Other wipes manufacturers may also be pursuing wipes that meet the IWSFG specifications. (Manufacturers may self-certify that their products meet the specification, since the IWSFG does not certify flushability.)
NACWA continues to work on building support for the three federal bills that have been introduced related to wipes labeling and flushability. The Wastewater Infrastructure Pollution Prevention and Environmental Safety (WIPPES) Act (HR 4602 and S 3956) would require “Do Not Flush” labeling on all non-flushable wipes. The Protecting Infrastructure and Promoting Environmental Stewardship (PIPES) Act (HR 6591) would require EPA to set flushability standards for flushable wipes.
NACWA members can support the federal bills using template letters for utilities that NACWA has developed for the House bills and the Senate bill. A report released by NACWA in 2020, The Cost of Wipes on America’s Clean Water Utilities, provides state-by-state estimates of wipes problems for utilities, which can be used to support the need for legislation.