Australia’s consumer watchdog has failed to persuade a judge that Kimberly-Clark Australia misled customers when it said its wipes were flushable.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission claimed the company made false or misleading representations by labelling the moist towelette products as flushable, leading consumers to believe that they had similar characteristics to toilet paper.
But in the Federal Court on Friday, Justice Jacqueline Gleeson said 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, it did not demonstrate that the company’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.
Consumer advocate group CHOICE expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it was terrible news for people who care about the environment and the country’s waterways.
“CHOICE is warning Australians not to flush wipes, following this disappointing court decision that means flushable wipe companies won’t be held to account for clogged sewers, damaged waterways and terrible plumbing bills for Australians,” head of campaigns and policy Sarah Agar said.
“This is terrible news for people who care about the environment and our waterways." CHOICE's Head of Campaigns and Policy, @SarahLouiseAgar, is warning people not to flush wipes following a disappointing court decision failing to hold companies to account for clogged drains. pic.twitter.com/QIvFbu33wz
— CHOICE (@choiceaustralia) June 28, 2019
The country’s peak body for water utilities also was disappointed with the decision, but said it was developing the first Australian standard on flushable products.
“Until the standard is finalised we advise consumers to only flush the 3Ps – pee, poo and toilet paper,” said Adam Lovell, executive director of Water Services Association of Australia.
“Wipes and other products are increasingly contributing to sewage blockages.
— Friends of the Earth Scotland 🌎 (@FoEScot) June 17, 2019
“These blockages are sometimes called ‘fatbergs’ and can disrupt customer services, create extra costs for water utilities and customers, and impact the environment through sewage overflows.”