Not much is currently known about the environmental effects of synthetic cellulosic fibers. Each wet-wipe product is made from a different combination of them, and they all biodegrade at different speeds and have different rates of emission. It will take some time to test all of the various synthetic fibers, and assess how many non-degradable particles they contribute to the aquatic environment. As a conservative position, the wastewater industry does not believe synthetic fibers should be used until more is known. The International Wastewater Position Statement, meanwhile, claims that no product made from plastics or regenerated cellulose should ever be flushed down the toilet.
Last August, Dude Wipes failed to pass a field test conducted by the city of Vancouver, Washington. Fourteen different brands of flushable wet wipes were labeled, soaked for a half-hour, then flushed down an 8-inch sewer line. The wastewater engineering team retrieved the Dude Wipes in the city sewer system 3330 feet away from the drop point, along with seven other brands, fully intact.
Villee, the Plainfield sewerage authority director, has personally tested Dude Wipes, as well. “They’re not the worst product,” he says. “I’d probably say they’re kind of in the middle of the pack somewhere.”
And are they biodegradable?
“They are, under certain conditions and temperatures, [but] I don’t think those are the conditions and temperatures that they’re exposed to in the wastewater system,” Villee says. He calls this the “disingenuous part” of the biodegradable label. “Yeah, they’re biodegradable, but when? Ten years from now?”
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Last month, Dude Wipes released a new version of its flushable wet wipe, which, according to Riley, now is 100 percent biodegradable and free of microplastics. (The company gets its scientific information from INDA president Rousse, independent consultants, and the science and doctor dudes who work at the product’s manufacturing plant.)
Riley scoffs at the notion that the INDA standard is too industry-friendly. He says that a Dude Wipes prototype once failed INDA’s flushability test, and the AmbASSadors worked hard to ensure that it eventually passed.* He couldn’t comment as to why the Dude Wipes failed the Vancouver Field Test, but he is skeptical of non-industry testing. “If you’re not running [the test] with a certified iso-lab, and certain specifications, it gets kind of hard to speak on,” he says.
Riley also resists any FTC-enforced definition of flushable. “I don’t necessarily think it’s the worst idea in the world,” he says. “But I’m sure they’d just be working with the industry. The industry would end up creating it anyway. They would just hold the government’s hand the whole time.”
The way he sees it, growing pains are to be expected. “The technology can obviously and already arguably is on the same pace as toilet paper,” Riley says. “Who’s to say the technology isn’t going to surpass toilet paper some day and cut down on paper waste altogether?”