U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the bipartisan Wastewater Pollution Prevention and Environmental Safety Act (WIPPES), a bill aimed at addressing the issues of health, ecosystem and wastewater infrastructure caused by flushing non-disposable wet wipes down the toilet.
“Many consumers who use wet wipes are unaware that flushing these products creates significant problems for plumbing, wastewater treatment equipment, and septic systems,” Collins says. “This legislation would require manufacturers to label non-flushable wet wipes, giving consumers the information they need to dispose of them safely. I urge my colleagues to support this sensible bill that will help prevent homeowners and taxpayers from having to pay for costly repairs.
“Wastewater treatment facilities run equipment around the clock so Oregonians’ rivers and streams are safe and clean,” Merkley says. “When non-disposable wipes are sent into our sewer systems as a means of disposal, Oregon’s wastewater treatment facilities face costly repairs and maintenance. Plus, these wipes are made of synthetic plastic fibers — and because they’re not biodegradable, these wipes break down into harmful microplastics. This bill is a necessary first step to ensure that these products are accurately labeled so they can be disposed of appropriately, keeping our water clean and ensuring that our wastewater treatment infrastructure is safe and effective, a major concern I hear in small communities in Oregon.
The WIPPES Act solves the pervasive, but ultimately preventable, problem of flushing non-disposable wet wipes down the toilet. Many of these products are made of manufactured plastic fibers or other tough fibers, and although these products are not marketed as flushable, consumers frequently flush them down the drain as a means of disposal. Due to strong fibers, these types of wipes do not break down as they pass through sewers. Instead, the wipes attract grease, oil, and grease and become clogs in sewer system pipes that clog pumps, block sewer collection systems, and stall motors, resulting in back-ups. wastewater and treatment equipment failures.
More specifically, the WIPPES law:
- Directs the Federal Trade Commission, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to issue regulations on “Do Not Rinse” labeling requirements for covered products defined in the bill, which include wipes for baby wipes, household wipes, disinfectant wipes, or personal care wipes.
- Authorizes a grant program to the EPA ($5 million per year) to support and expand state, local government, and nonprofit taxpayer education and outreach activities. These grants will increase awareness of the label and proper disposal methods for these wipes.
The WIPPES Act is endorsed by the Maine Rural Water Association, Maine Water Environment Association, Maine Water Utilities Association, Portland Water District (Maine), Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA ), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Stewardship Action Council and Water Environment Federation (WEF).
“With record numbers of people learning and working from home, the pandemic has highlighted the devastating effect that wipes are having on our critically important wastewater treatment infrastructure,” said Kirsten Hebert, executive director of Maine Rural Water Association. “This legislation is a step in the right direction by ensuring labeling of packages and educating the public about the truth about rinse wipes. We are grateful to Senator Collins for supporting this bill and bringing attention to this important issue.
“We’ve been dealing with the negative impacts of disposable wipes dumped into our sewers and treatment plants for more than a decade,” said Scott Firmin, Director of Wastewater Services for the Portland Water District. “We were part of a working group to address this, and we hosted some of the early work to quantify what kind of material was being discharged and how it affected sewer systems. Seeing this legislation after all that effort is gratifying, and we are pleased that a clear labeling standard is being enforced. We commend Senator Collins and Senator Merkley for moving such an important piece of legislation forward.
“The problem of so-called ‘flushable’ wipes has cost our district ratepayers thousands of dollars in damages and equipment failures over the past few years by clogging our pumps and blinding our screens,” said Nick Champagne. , Superintendent, Sanitary Treatment District of Kennebec. . “It’s no secret that our country’s water and wastewater infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and replacement. The WIPPES law contributes to preserving our investments in the rehabilitation of infrastructures by protecting the equipment necessary for the cleanliness of our waterways. We fully support and applaud Senator Collins’ efforts to introduce this bill, as it is long overdue.
“The York Sewer District is delighted to see the WIPPES (Wastewater Infrastructure Pollution Prevention and Environmental Safety) Act moving forward,” said York Sewer District Superintendent Phil Tucker. “For many years, the wastewater industry has had to deal with the environmental, financial and operational consequences of mislabeled wipes. Incorporating a standard for evaluating flushability and consistent symbolization of “Do Not Flush” will go a long way in mitigating the impacts of wipes on our sewage system. »
INDA, the nonwoven fabrics industry association, and CASA, the California Association of Sanitation Agencies, have both expressed support for the legislation.