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ACCC loses appeal over popular brand’s ‘flushable’ wipes claims

To flush or not to flush? When it comes to ‘flushable’ wipes, it depends on who you ask. But experts say flushable wipes don’t break down as they should.

In 2016 the debate was taken to court, when the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) claimed that Kimberly-Clark was misleading customers by saying their wipes are ‘flushable’. The ACCC argued that four Kleenex wipes products made by Kimberly-Clark are marketed incorrectly, as they don’t actually break down.

This week, the ACCC lost their appeal in the Federal Court due to what one CHOICE expert called “legal technicalities”.

“Disappointing”

Sydney Water told 9 News the verdict was “disappointing”, and that despite the ruling, wet wipes “wreak havoc in our pipes”.

“Only the three P’s can be flushed down your toilet – pee, poo and (toilet) paper. We ask our customers to remain diligent in putting sanitary products, including wet wipes and facial tissues in the bin, not down the drain,” Head of Customer Hub Darren Cash says.

“Do not flush these wipes”

CHOICE consumer law expert Julia Steward says although the ruling was discouraging, the ACCC “was right to fight this.”

“Regulators need to take on the hard battles, and they won’t win every time, but we’re glad they took up the fight. Kimberly-Clark has won on legal technicalities, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is wrong.

“Kimberley Clark might have won this case, but these wipes still aren’t flushable. Do not flush these wipes.”

Shonky awards

In 2015, CHOICE joined forces with Sydney Water to test flushable wipes. The results weren’t great, and CHOICE gave a Shonky Award to Kimberly-Clark for its flushable wipes claims.

“In the testing we conducted in 2015, there was no sign of these products truly breaking up,” says Julia. “The so-called ‘flushable’ wipes held together in our tests for hours while ordinary toilet paper broke down and dissolved in a few minutes.”

After the testing, a complaint was filed with the ACCC, and in 2016 the consumer watchdog set proceedings in the Federal Court in motion against Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd for allegedly misleading customers about their wipes.

Despite the ruling, Julia says there’s no excuse to “rip off Australians.”

“Kleenex claimed that its ‘flushable’ wipes meet guidelines for flushability, but these guidelines were written by industry, for the industry. This self-regulation is useless, and shouldn’t let companies get away with misleading people,” she says.

“The industry guidelines are not a good standard to follow. This ruling should not be an excuse to mislead and rip off Australians. We expect companies to be responsible for their products rather than play legal claims to evade responsibility.”

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