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Flushable Baby Wipes Are NOT

Posted on October 9, 2015 by Jeanne Roberts There have been 0 comments

That box of baby wipes is on the shelf, right next to the container of (equally indispensable) disposable diapers. Boldly labeled “flushable”, the wipes also offer a cucumber and green tea formulation, but at twice the price of regular wipes – and with no explanation of why green tea should be good for baby’s bottom (or yours) – you opt for savings over curiosity.

Even more debatable is the printed claim that the disposable wipes (also known as “wet” wipes, or even adult wipes) are flushable. But let me back up a little, to the history behind these dampened fiber cloths used to wipe messy (and not so messy) areas of the human anatomy.

The first wet wipes were not specifically designed for babies at all, but they fit nicely in a cosmetic bag or shaving kit and offered travelers a quick and easy way to clean up while traveling in the 1950s.

The idea was a big hit, and flushing wipes was not a problem. Toilets still used a full 7 gallons of water when flushed.

By 1980, several companies had innovated wet-wipe packaging to include pop-up sheets and refillable containers. In 1990, the first wipes aimed exclusively at babies appeared on the shelves of stores like Wal-Mart and Walgreens, and even grocery stores like Cub and Rainbow. Flushing remained an option because the average toilet still used about 5.5 gallons to flush, while even the newest models used 3.5 gallons. Moreover, city sewer systems were not reporting problems with the sudden influx of fibrous wipes that did not break down like toilet paper – perhaps because many people were still using old-fashioned washcloths.

It wasn’t until January of 1994 that low-flush toilets became mandatory in homes and apartments. The rule finally reached commercial-building restrooms in 1997. By the turn of the 21st century, or 2001, these low-water toilets used only 30 percent of the water they had less than a decade earlier, and clearly, that 1.6 gallons of water per toilet was not enough to keep everything flowing.

The wipes began to form snarls, or superknots. Sewer system workers and managers also began to snarl as they operated the mechanical rakes designed to collect these superknots. Simultaneously, hygiene-loving adults, teens, and moms began buying even more wipes: from 2008 to 2013, sales rose by almost a quarter, to $367 million.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” a local wastewater treatment plant official said to me recently. “But, for God’s sake, folks, stop flushing the wipes! No matter what the container says.”

Consumers who subscribe to the concept of environmentally friendly (and sustainable) will be glad to learn that Seventh Generation (the model for all things “green” in the cleaning, hygiene, and home products categories) does not promote its wipes as “flushable”. Still, in every other way, these wipes are as green as the grass in Ireland – at least according to momtastic.com, one of our favorite green baby sites, agrees.

According to Momtastic, Seventh Generation is so committed to environment, sustainability, and (most of all) baby safety that they actually tested their baby wipes for benzene, a known human cancer-causing agent.

Benzene is the caustic ingredient that sometimes forms when sodium benzoate and citric acid come together, as they do in many other, green-labeled wipes. Unfortunately, most cosmetics and cleaning products manufacturers don’t test for benzene. It isn’t required. Seventh Generation does … well, just because it is Seventh Generation.

Said wipes are not only plant-based, but are free of perfumes, dyes, parabens, and phthalates – the science behind “free and clear”. In addition, they use 70 percent less plastic. Only slightly more expensive than knockoff brands (at .083¢ per sheet), they are strong enough to rinse and reuse if the mess is only mildly yucky.

The absolutely best part? Seventh Generation uses saponaria, or soapwort, as the cleaning agent. This is the same soapwort my grandmother used to make her fine-milled facial soap! Add aloe, one of the greatest skin-soothers of all time, and you have a superior product that can go back into the landfill without destroying underground water reservoirs or the soil they hydrate.

Nevertheless, wipes must go back into the landfill (or be incinerated), because flushing wipes is costing big cities an additional $3 million every year, with costs rising about $75,000 annually. This cost is paid by you, the consumer, via rising water utility bills and assessments.

By all means, use wipes, but buy a trashcan with a tight-fitting lid (and biodegradable can liners), and keep it in the bathroom. Prevent superknots in your city’s treatment facility – and snarls in your budget!

This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Childcare and was tagged with baby wipes, benzene, flushable, green baby, HEALTH SENSITIVE, hygiene, low-water toilet, sanitary wipes, sodium benzoate, superknot, wastewater treatment plant, wet wipes


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Green Home is the original online ecostore, based in San Francisco, California, in the heart of both the environmental and cleantech industries. Since 1999 Greenhome.com has played its part as one of the most comprehensive online resources for greening your home and greening your business. Our company is on a mission to green the world, one person (and one business) at a time. While all of our products are eco-friendly, we are especially passionate about compostable plates, cups, bowls, cutlery & utensils, take out containers and bags.  If more businesses and individuals switched from disposable to compostable we could make a real impact on the world!

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