The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), the peak body for water utilities in Australia, is disappointed with the ruling by the Federal Court today to dismiss the appeal by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission in its case against Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd.

Images supplied by Sydney Water, SA Water, Queensland Urban Utilities and Yarra Valley Water.

Mr Adam Lovell, Executive Director, WSAA said “While very disappointed we respect the decision of the Federal Court and thank the ACCC for their efforts in bringing the issue of wipes marked ‘flushable’ to light. Wipes and other products are increasingly contributing to sewage blockages. We have most recently seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our members have reported sewage blockage increases of between 20 and 60 percent compared to the same time last year”.

“These blockages are bad for the hip pocket – both for customers and water utilities and are the last thing needed with the economic impacts from COVID-19 being felt all over the country”, said Mr Lovell.

These blockages are often called ‘fatbergs’ and can disrupt customer services, create extra costs for water utilities and customers, and impact the environment through sewage overflows.

“The decision today highlights the need for an appropriate standard for Australia. WSAA continues to call for clearer labelling for consumers and is leading the development of an Australian Standard for Flushable Products”, said Mr Lovell.

Mr Lovell added “Until the Standard is finalised we advise consumers to only flush the 3Ps – Pee, Poo and toilet Paper! Recently, we were excited to see messaging in Woolworths stores that helps communicate to customers that only toilet paper can be flushed.

We know practicing good hygiene is so important at this time - however, wet wipes, paper towel and tissues can create blockages and we want our water utilities focused on providing the essential services we need right now – like high quality drinking water for handwashing”, said Mr Lovell. 

The Australian Standard will include pass/fail criteria along with appropriate labelling requirements and is being developed by manufacturers, water utilities, peak bodies and consumer groups. The required testing for the Standard development has been impacted by COVID-19 but we are expecting a draft to be released for public consultation in the next few months.

“It’s not just an issue here in Australia, internationally UK water utilities say it costs £100 million annually to clear blockages contributed to mainly by wet wipes. Utilities in the US report similar experiences. Here in Australia and New Zealand the issue is costing the urban water industry millions of dollars each year”, said Mr Lovell.

The decision today follows an appeal by the ACCC after the Federal Court dismissed its case against Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd alleging false or misleading representations in relation to ‘flushable’ wipes they marketed and supplied in Australia.

WSAA is the peak body representing the urban water industry in Australia. Its members provide water and wastewater services to over 24 million customers in Australia and New Zealand, including many of Australia’s largest industrial and commercial enterprises.

Images from around Australia available for media use on Google docs (please attribute to relevant utility)

15 Jun 2020

Sandi Kolbe

Sandi Kolbe

Communications Manager