Wipes are a quickly growing industry that has grown from baby cleaning to Dude Wipes and more – not to mention the cleaning wipes that make our lives easier and our homes cleaner. But the “flushable” wipes are not safe for flushing because they do not dissolve. Instead, they become huge blocks in sewer pipes that wrap around roots that have grown through pipes and around treatment screens and then have to be removed. They can also cause problems in home plumbing. Rex Kinney, a plumber in New Jersey, says, “People flush them down the toilet and they go down the drain no problem, but usually when they hit … a 45-degree elbow within the homeowner’s plumbing pipes going out to the street, that’s when they just start congregating. And then over months, over time, they’re not being drawn out into the street, and eventually, boom, they shut the sewer. They completely block the sewer and then people get a backup and they call a plumber.”

Dave Barkey sells machines that grind wipes to help prevent such blocks in sewage pipes, but he says they are a temporary fix. If the wipes are not chopped in to small enough pieces, they can “reweave” downstream, with the too-large pieces forming new barriers.

While it has been suggested that wipes stop being produced, it will “only worsen the problems faced by municipalities because consumers will likely turn to nonflushable products – like baby wipes – to address their toileting needs,” according to a statement made by the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.