Karen McIntyre of Nonwovens Industry recently published an article from the viewpoint of the wastewater industry on flushable wipes. She interviewed the sewage authority director, Rob Villee, in Middlesex, NJ for his perspective on the problem of flushability. The aptly nicknamed “Lord of Wipes” claimed in the article that consumer education is where most of the problem lies with the perception that wipes are causing drain clogs all over the country.
He said that, in fact, the biggest factor in drain clogs is often commercial paper towels but that people started blaming flushable wipes when they came onto the scene.
Some wipes are manufactured to be flushable. Others are not. Villee claims that packaging changes may significantly help the problem with a prominent “Not flushable” indicator on packaging facing the consumer.
If we can educate the consumer on flushable vs. non-flushable wipes, that still leaves us with the question: do we make our wipes flushable or non-flushable?
There are several questions we have to answer before we can decide what to manufacture.
1. Be ready for consumer inquiries. If we opt to manufacture flushable wipes, we must be prepared for consumer advocate agencies to question our products. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents 300 wastewater agencies, has indicated that customers have complained about the real flushability of wipes for years. We must perform adequate testing before wipes every hit the market to ensure that our flushable wipes are, indeed, flushable.
2. Follow industry guidelines. INDA’s latest “Guidelines Document for Assessing the Flushability of Nonwoven Disposable Products” was released in June 2013. The nonwovens industry is maintaining an active interest in ensuring not only that products are manufactured correctly but that they are used correctly by consumers as well. Follow the seven tests that INDA suggests to assess the flushability of your nonwoven wipes product.
3. Consider the market. Obviously, one of the big questions is always whether or not there is a place for the product in the marketplace. Non-flushable baby wipes sales in the US were at about $1.2 billion in 2014. That’s a sizeable market. However, Smithers Apex estimates that the flushable wipes market will grow about 12.1% annually to reach $2.4 billion by 2018. There is room for expansion on both sides of the market, flushable and non-flushable.
The question of manufacturing flushable vs. non-flushable wipes will boil down to not only what the market will support but whether your manufacturing process has the capability to adhere to the suggested guidelines for flushable wipes. It’s not an easy question but one that manufacturers and converters can certainly decide on together.
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