The consumer protection watchdog is trying to clean out what it has alleged are false claims that various personal hygiene and bathroom wipes are “flushable”.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said its Federal Court action is a world first, as sewerage authorities struggle with the wipes, which it is alleged do not degrade as quickly as promised.
The allegations are against Pental, which makes the White King brand of bathroom cleaning products, and Kimberly-Clark Australia, which produces hygiene wipes under the Kleenex brand.
“These products did not, for example, disintegrate like toilet paper when flushed,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.
“Australian water authorities face significant problems when non-suitable products are flushed down the toilet as they contribute to blockages to household and municipal sewerage systems.”
Mr Sims told the ABC that the ACCC is alleging the two companies were engaged in making false or misleading representations to consumers.
“The word flushable must mean something. I think most people would think it means that it’s got similar characteristics to toilet paper.”
“But, even if they don’t think that, then they’d think that it would break down in a reasonable time frame, otherwise why would it have that label?”
‘Damaging pipes and waterways’
Mr Sims said the regulator is seeking penalties and corrective notices, as well as injunctions to stop the continued marketing of these products with such claims.
“They’ve got slightly different products out, but they still are selling such products and, certainly, a group of water authorities in various countries take a view that the only thing you should be flushing down is toilet paper,” he added.
Hygiene wipes have been a headache for water management facilities, with Sydney Water saying clean-up efforts cost around $8 million annually.
In October 2015, consumer advocacy group CHOICE’s tests found flushable wipes did not disintegrate like toilet paper, with the wipes holding together for 21 hours, while toilet paper dissolved in a few minutes.
“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 customers about the nature of its products,” said CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey in a statement.
“Consumers rightly expect that a product labelled ‘flushable’ won’t damage their pipes or our waterways.”
The products subject to the ACCC’s proceedings are Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex cottonelle flushable cleansing cloths, and Pental’s White King Power clean flushable toilet wipes.
In a statement sent to the ABC, a Kimberly-Clark spokesperson said the company stands by claims it has made about the flushability of their Kleenex cottonelle 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,” she said.
“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.”