New Law Requires Easier-to-Find Disposal Labeling for Wet Wipes

Sewer pipe clogged by wet wipes

Governor Newsom signed AB 818 by Assembly Member Richard Bloom into law on October 6, 2021. It requires all packaging for diaper wipes, cleaning wipes, and cosmetic wipes to display clear “Do Not Flush” warnings.

The bill is the result of a three-year effort between representatives from wastewater and product stewardship groups and wipes manufacturers to address an urgent pollution problem that has plagued public wastewater infrastructure. The legislation establishes disposal labeling requirements for wet wipes packaging and requires manufacturers of wipes to educate the public on the impacts of flushing wipes improperly.

The wastewater sector, such as RWQCP, has shouldered the burden of managing debris from improper disposal of wipes and other trash into their systems for years. One recent national study estimates that California agencies spend around $50 million annually to remove wipes from the sewers. “This is a major step forward in the wastewater industry’s fight to keep wipes intended for the trash can out of our public sewer systems” said Jessica Gauger, Director of Legislative Advocacy and Public Affairs for CASA, a statewide trade association representing public wastewater agencies. “Through the leadership of Assembly Member Bloom, the wipes industry has taken a major step forward in addressing consumer confusion about improper disposal of these products which has been a major contributor to debris in our systems. Working collaboratively with industry stakeholders we have found a solution to provide clarity to consumers, which we are hopeful will result in a decrease in wipes being flushed.”

“With AB 818, the wipes industry is taking responsibility for the labeling necessary for consumers to properly dispose of their products.”

– Heidi Sanborn with the National Stewardship Action Council

Sanborn notes that in addition to the package labeling requirements, a key provision of AB 818 requires the manufacturers of wipes to not only educate the public through the labeling, but also conduct public outreach campaigns to explain the proper disposal of their products and the effects of improperly flushing them.

Lara Wyss, president of the Responsible Flushing Alliance, a 501(c)(6) created by the wipes industry to promote responsible consumer disposal habits, also lauded the passage of AB 818. “Public awareness and education around smart flushing habits is the key to changing behaviors.” Wyss indicated that this is the beginning of a new era of collaboration between the wastewater sector and wipes manufacturers noting, “Protecting public infrastructure and the environment is a high priority for our alliance and we look forward to our continued cooperative efforts with wastewater agencies in California.”

#FlushSmart is the Responsible Flushing Alliance’s campaign is to empower consumers to distinguish categories of wipes that should not be flushed down the toilet and how to recognize the “Do Not Flush” symbol, with the goal of improving disposal behavior to help reduce damage to California’s sewage systems caused by products and materials not designed to be flushed.