Accc takes action over flushable wipes

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UNFLUSHABLE “flushable” wipes have landed two manufacturers in trouble with the consumer watchdog.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking action against Kimberly-Clark and Pental alleging they made false or misleading representations and engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to flushable wipes.

The ACCC alleges consumers were led to believe the products had similar characteristics to toilet paper, would break up or disintegrate in a time frame and manner similar to toilet paper, and were suitable to be flushed down the toilet when this was not the case.

The action follows a complaint by consumer group Choice, which singled out Kimberly-Clarks Flushable Wipes for Kids for a Shonky Award in 2015.

The ACCC alleges that the impression given by the representations which Kimberly-Clark and Pental each made about these products was that they were suitable to be flushed down household toilets in Australia, when this was not the case, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

These products did not, for example, disintegrate like toilet paper when flushed. Australian water authorities face significant problems when non-suitable products are flushed down the toilet as they contribute to blockages in household and municipal sewerage systems.

Between May 2013 and May 2016, the ACCC alleges Kimberly-Clark advertised its Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths as flushable, completely flushable, able to be flushed in the toilet, and able to break down in sewerage system or septic tank.

It also stated on its website for Flushable Wipes for Kids that they would break up in the sewerage or septic system like toilet paper.

The ACCC also alleged that Kimberly-Clark advertised that these products were made in Australia when that was not the case.

In the case against Pental, the ACCC alleges that between February 2011 and August 2016, the company advertised its White King Power Clean Flushable Toilet Wipes as a flushable toilet wipe that disintegrated like toilet paper.

Pentals packaging and promotional materials included statements such as Simply wipe over the hard surface of the toilet ... and just flush away, and that its flushable wipes are made from a specially designed material, which will disintegrate in the sewage system when flushed, just like toilet paper.

Choice welcomed the legal action. The group said its tests found the wipes held together for 21 hours, while toilet paper dissolves in a few minutes. Our tests clearly show that flushable products stink, Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.

Kleenex misled consumers into thinking flushable wipes perform the same way as toilet paper when they basically fail to break down at all after hours of testing. We used the results of our test to make a complaint to the ACCC back in 2015, because we felt Kleenex was breaching the Australian Consumer Law by misleading consumers about the nature of its products.

Since 2015, over 6000 consumers have sent emails to Kimberly-Clark demanding that misleading flushable claims are wiped off supermarket shelves. To date, the company refuses to admit that there is any issue with their product, even though theyve quietly reformulated their wipes.

Consumers rightly expect that a product labelled flushable wont damage their pipes or our waterways. The consumer law exists to protect consumers from harmful, misleading advertising and were sure that the thousands of people who joined our campaign are pleased to see the law being used to clean up dodgy claims.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, penalties, injunctions, corrective notices, compliance program orders and costs in both cases.

In a statement, a Kimberly-Clark spokeswoman said: Kimberly-Clark stands by the claims we made about the flushability of our Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths, which were supplied up until May 2016.

Our claims that these products are flushable are accurate and the proceedings will be defended on that basis. These products and the current Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Wipes meet or exceed the requirements set out in the INDA/EDANA Flushability guidelines, which are the only widely accepted guidelines for assessing flushability.

In a statement, Pental said it had fully co-operated with the ACCC since it commenced an investigation in February this year and was disappointed the watchdog had decided to issue proceedings.

The product packaging was inherited by Pental from a major international company with a long history of selling consumer products, a spokesman said. Accordingly, Pental held the belief that the labelling and packaging of the White King Bathroom Wipes were in conformity with all relevant legal requirements.

In September 2014, Pental undertook its own review of the White King Bathroom Wipes packaging and removed the claims relating to disintegration like toilet paper. This was well prior to any ACCC investigation or any controversy about flushability claims.

Pental continued to sell the White King Bathroom Wipes as flushable products as it believed that flushing down the toilet was a suitable means of disposal for the product. There is no legal standard for flushability and therefore there is an inherent degree of ambiguity about the meaning of that term.

Nevertheless, in response to the ACCCs concerns, Pental took action to remove the word flushable from the White King Bathroom Wipes packaging and its websites in or around July 2016.