The corporate watchdog isn’t taking a Federal Court ruling on ‘flushable’ wipes sitting down, announcing it will challenge the court’s earlier decision that the wipes are fine to be flushed down the toilet.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will appeal the court’s ruling that the claims by Kimberly-Clark that its wipes were ‘flushable’, arguing that the risk of harm to sewerage systems was overlooked.
The Court found in June that the company’s claims that the wipes were ‘flushable’ were not false or misleading, much to the dismay and anger of consumer groups and water utility firms who say wipes contribute to sewage blockages, environmental harm and high plumbing bills.
Justice Jacqueline Gleeson said at the time she was not persuaded the ACCC’s evidence was sufficient to support a conclusion that the wipes were unsuitable for flushing.
“If it is sufficient, I do not draw that conclusion because the instances of blockages identified by the complaints are so few in the context of the total sales of the wipes that they are properly characterised as insignificant,” she said.
“There was ample evidence that ‘wipe’ products generally are a significant management problem for municipal sewerage systems, impairing the function of infrastructure and increasing maintenance costs.”
But the ACCC failed to demonstrate that Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths (KCFC) wipes had caused harm to, or inflicted cost on, any single municipal system in any particular instance.
Evidence from the company’s business records revealed 28 consumer complaints about household system blockages during the relevant period. Millions of packets of KCFC wipes were sold during that time.
The ACCC originally claimed Kimberly-Clark made false or misleading representations about the suitability of its flushable wipes to be flushed down the toilet between May 2013 and May 2016.
But the ACCC said on Monday that Justice Gleeson was wrong to rule evidence of actual harm was required, when risk of harm from the product was apparent.
“The ACCC will also argue that the Court made an error by rejecting the ACCC’s case that Kimberly-Clark had claimed the Kleenex Wipes would break up quickly like toilet paper when flushed,” chair Rod Sims said.
“The ACCC is aware of problems continuing to be reported by Australian water authorities as a result of non-suitable products, such as wet wipes, being flushed down the toilet and contributing to blockages and other operational issues.”
A hearing for the appeal before the Full Federal Court will be set at a later date.