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World first flushability standard big step towards preventing blockages


24 May 2022

World first flushability standard big step towards preventing blockages

24 May 2022

New Zealanders will now be able to identify products that are safe to flush following the publication of new Australian-New Zealand flushability standards.

Water New Zealand, with the backing of New Zealand water utilities, has been working with our Australian counterparts, WSAA (Water Services Association of Australia), water utilities as well as some manufacturers for the past three years to develop an agreed and enforceable flushability standard.

Water New Zealand’s Technical Manager Noel Roberts was a member of the technical committee developing the standard.

He says this is the first time in the world that there is an agreed manufacturer and industry-wide flushable standard.

“Wipes and other non flushables are a major cause of blockages in pipes, contributing to fatbergs, and environmental pollution through sewage overflows.

“We conservatively estimate that it costs utilities in Aotearoa New Zealand at least $16-million each year to unblock pipes caused by wipes and other non-flushables.

“While we at this stage continue to urge people not to flush anything other than the three p’s (pee, poo and toilet paper), consumers will soon be able to check for the flushable symbol on packaging.

“If there’s no flushable symbol on the packet then don’t flush it, bin it.”

Water New Zealand would like to thank the following councils for their contributions towards creating the new Standard:

Opotiki District Council, Central Otago District Council, Wairoa District Council, Tauranga City Council, Timaru District  Council, New Plymouth City Council, Nelson City Council, Horowhenua District Council, Hamilton City Council, Hauraki District Council, Gore District Council, Invercargill City Council, Clutha District Council, Gisborne District Council, Tasman District Council, Porirua City Council, Carterton District Council

Questions and answers

New Australian – New Zealand Flushable Standards (DR AS/NZS 5328:2021)?

How do you determine that a product is flushable? To be flushable, a product must be suitable for disposal through wastewater networks and treatment systems, including onsite treatment systems. It must not adversely impact those systems or remain recognisable in effluent after being through the wastewater treatment process.

What type of products might NOT pass the criteria in the Standard? Products that contain plastic, that don’t disintegrate, and those that cannot pass easily through pipework or pumps.

How can I tell if a product is flushable? Flushable products will have a clearly identifiable symbol on the packaging. If it does not have this symbol, it does not meet the flushability standard and should be put in the bin, not the toilet.

Why do we need a Standard for flushable products? Wastewater systems are designed to treat waste from toilets and urinals — faeces, urine and toilet paper — along with other waste from bathing, laundry and kitchen activities though fats, oils and greases can cause problems.

In recent years, products have been introduced in the marketplace that claim to be flushable or are likely to be flushed down the toilet because they are used in bathrooms. Some of these products are not compatible with our wastewater systems and can lead to blockages.

Wastewater systems are vital to protect public health and the environment. When blockages occur, there is a risk that wastewater may spill from the system and create public health and environmental risks along with other unnecessary costs to water utilities and customers.

In Aotearoa New Zealand it’s been estimated to cost water utilities at least $16-m each year to unblock wastewater pipes. Internationally UK water utilities say it costs £100 million annually to clear blockages while Scottish Water recently reported an annual cost of £7 million responding to 36,000 blockages each year with the vast majority featuring wet wipes. Utilities in the US report similar experiences.

What does the symbol for packaging look like? If you see this symbol on a product it means it has passed the criteria in the Standard and is safe for flushing.

Figure 4.1 from AS/NZS 5328:2022. © Standards Australia Limited/Standards New Zealand 2022.

Will manufacturers be required to display “Do not flush” on their packaging if they do not meet the Standard? They should, but the Standard is more about what is flushable rather than what is not. There is ongoing work for an ISO Standard for a non-flushable symbol.

Do we still only flush the 3P’s?

We know that poo, pee and toilet paper (the 3P’s) are compatible with flushing and wastewater infrastructure. However, we can now check for the flushable symbol/logo. If there is no flushable symbol on the packet, then it can’t be flushed and needs to go in the bin. If you see the flushable symbol, then it can be flushed.

Are there other Standards like this around the world?

This Flushable Products Standard is the first Standard of its kind in the world where there has been collaboration between water utilities and manufacturers in its development. There is already interest in adopting the Australian and New Zealand Standard from other countries. Israel has advised they are considering adopting the Standard.

How will any legal action against manufacturers who mislabel products be taken?

The Commerce Commission enforces the Fair Trading Act which prohibits false, misleading and unsubstantiated representations. If businesses claim products are flushable then those claims must be truthful, accurate and able to be substantiated. Additionally, businesses that represent products comply with a Standard, must ensure they comply with the Standard in full and have evidence to show those products comply.

What are the penalties for misleading or false labelling?

If a business is making claims about the flushable nature of its products that cannot be backed up, or if it states it complies with the new Standard when it does not, this is likely to be a breach of the Fair Trading Act. There are serious penalties for breaching the Fair Trading Act – companies can be fined up to $600,000 and individuals up to $200,000 per breach. The Commission has guidance on its website for businesses making accurate claims here and further information on making environmental claims here.

Are there any current products on the market labelled as flushable that are not?

There are numerous products that are labelled flushable that won’t meet this Standard. Manufacturers will need to get them tested in order to use the label and claim that they are flushable

Will it take time for the new labelling to be added to products on the supermarket shelf?

Manufacturers will need to get their products tested against this Standard at an independent laboratory to determine if they can indeed use the logo. I would expect a transition time of a month or so.

Will it take time for the new labelling to be added to products on the supermarket shelf? Manufacturers will need to get their products tested against this standard at an independent laboratory to determine if they can use the logo. We expect a transition time.

Will manufacturers be required to display “Do not flush” on their packaging if they do not meet the Standard? They should, but the Standard is more about what is flushable rather than what is not. There is ongoing work for an ISO Standard for a non-flushable symbol.

Who was involved in drafting the Standard? The Standard was developed by a technical committee including manufacturers, water utilities, peak bodies and consumer groups.