Wet wipes – cleaning without clogging

Accord’s Jennifer Semple examines the importance of the proper disposal of used wet wipe and other cleaning products.

Since the earliest wet wipe – the Wet Nap – was made by Arthur Julius in the late 1950s, wet wipes have really been cleaning up.

According to the 2018 Smithers Pira report, “The Future of Global Nonwoven Wipes to 2023a, the global nonwoven wipes market is valued at $US16.6 billion – and projected to grow another 30 per cent by 2023.

Wet wipes result from the coming-together of successful engineering and formulation: engineering of a suitable non-woven material for sufficient wet strength, and formulation of an infused solution suitable for the cleaning task at hand. The result is so convenient, as well as hygienic – a disposable all-in-one cleaning product and applicator.

In the industrial market, wet wipes include those for general purpose cleaning, specialty tasks such as heavy-duty degreasing, and for the food service and healthcare sectors. In some applications, wet wipes can offer advantages over traditional cleaning methods.

For example, use of wet wipes for hospital cleaning and disinfecting instead of the traditional cloth and bucket method may help prevent cross-contamination, decrease hospital-acquired infections and decrease the time taken to clean and disinfect. Industrial wet wipes account for approximately 20 per cent of the global wipes market.a

But it’s not all great news when it comes to wet wipes and pipes: wet wipes have been implicated in sewer blockages that affect local premises as well as broader infrastructure – and potentially result in costly clean-up or environmental spills.

Overseas data on the composition of sewer blockages and fatbergs (which arise from combination of solid, non-biodegradable materials with solidified fats, oils and greases) shows that many wipes are getting into the sewerage system. Although no collection-point study data on Australian sewers has been published, local water authorities have also identified wet wipes as a significant contributor to local blockages.

So where are these wipes coming from? In Australia, it seems that this is likely due to people flushing wipes that should not be flushed.

Does your company produce or use industrial wet wipes? Do you know that they are being disposed of correctly – in the bin? Does your on-pack messaging and training reinforce the importance of this? (And beyond wipes, is anything else being inappropriately flushed, like paper towel, tissues or other cleaning cloths? Fats, oils and greases?)

Because most wipes are not intended to be flushed. Non-flushable wipes need enough wet-strength for the cleaning task at hand and therefore do not disintegrate (break up into small enough pieces) upon flushing in the same way as toilet paper. Nor do tissues, paper towel and most other cleaning cloths!

In contrast, flushable wipes are typically made of short fibres that have low wet strength after flushing. ​ In the absence of an international flushability standard, Standards Australia approved the development of a national flushability standard in May 2018.

Accord and other industry stakeholders are actively collaborating with the Australian water services industry to develop this, with an anticipated timeframe of two years.

However, part of the solution to the wipes in pipes problem can be achieved now – by ensuring the proper disposal of used wipe and other cleaning products.

aSmithers Pira 2018, The Future of Global Nonwoven Wipes to 2023 https://www.smitherspira.com/industry-market-reports/nonwovens/global-nonwoven-wipes-to-2023

Jennifer Semple is innovation and education manager of Accord

This article first appeared in the May/June issue of INCLEAN magazine. 

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