Waterloo Region Record

‘Flushable’ wipes aren’t the real problem

- LUISA D’AMATO ldamato@therecord.com Twitter: @DamatoReco­rd

The world is overheatin­g. The Amazon is burning.

But here at Kitchener city council, we’re talking about flushable wipes.

They’re a big problem for municipali­ties because they get clogged in sewage systems.

Coun. Bil Ioannidis, who brought up the issue, said he hears more and more about how Kitchener residents are concerned about environmen­tal issues.

“We need better rules and regulation­s to protect our environmen­t,” he said.

The so-called “flushable” wipes shouldn’t be labelled that way, he argued.

The wipes are used by some people instead of toilet paper. And although they technicall­y can be flushed down a toilet, they don’t break down properly because they’re too thick and not biodegrada­ble.

Once in the sewage system, the wipes stick to the oil and grease that is generated by both human and kitchen waste and flushed down kitchen sinks and toilets.

Then they clump together, forming large lumps called “fatbergs” that clog up sewage pipes, pumps and systems.

It can take weeks for workers to demolish them with shovels and high-powered jets.

One gigantic fatberg in London, England was the size of a bus by the time it was discovered, said Barbara Robinson, former city engineer for Kitchener.

“It makes a big, greasy, disgusting smelly mess,” she told council on Monday night.

Ioannidis’ motion, to have the city lobby the federal government to consider removing the word “flushable,” was unanimousl­y passed by fellow councillor­s. He has some momentum on his side. On Wednesday, the Competitio­n Bureau of Canada announced it was investigat­ing the marketing practices of companies that make wipes, after getting complaints that items marked as “flushable” do not really live up to that claim.

Ioannidis said it was important, after the city had declared a climate emergency, “not to rest on our laurels. Make sure we keep advocating and keep the momentum moving forward.”

He said the city needs to start thinking about using electric vehicles, constructi­ng new buildings with a zero carbon footprint, and more public transit.

He knows that the personal wipes issue is small, but it’s a start.

He confessed to me that he personally would like to see people stop driving their gasolinepo­wered cars.

But he knows his constituen­ts, on the outer suburbs of the city, would not agree.

Ioannidis is caught in the same dilemma we all are.

Personal hygiene wipes, like plastic straws, have almost nothing to do with the climate emergency. They’re waste management issues.

The climate emergency is a terrifying problem. Canada’s own plan to manage it won’t even come close to meeting the targets laid out in the Paris Accord.

For the planet to avoid catastroph­ic heating, we all have to make huge behaviour changes including driving less, flying less, reproducin­g less, eating less meat, and not using fuels like coal, oil and natural gas to generate power.

Most of us can’t even imagine how we would function.

No wonder we would rather think about smaller problems that we can get our heads around. Like refusing a plastic straw. Or taking the word “flushable” off a box of wipes.

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