You can call them expensive, cumbersome and inconvenient, but in Michigan, you can no longer call these wipes “flushable”
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You can call them expensive, cumbersome and inconvenient, but in Michigan, you can no longer call these wipes “flushable”

So-called “flushable” wipes are not actually flushable. In fact, they are a constant headache for wastewater treatment plant operators and a significant expense for taxpayers. They clog screens and pumps used in wastewater treatment facilities, requiring constant maintenance and expensive cleaning expenses.

Wipers spoil work at the Great Lakes Water Authority’s Water Resource Recovery Facility. Courtesy of the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Wipers spoil work at the Great Lakes Water Authority’s Water Resource Recovery Facility. Courtesy of the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Thanks to a recent state law, manufacturers can no longer sell wipes in Michigan as “flushable.” In fact, they must include the words “Do Not Flush” and a symbol that discourages people from sending the durable fabrics to wastewater treatment plants.

“These wipes are wreaking havoc on critical underground infrastructure,” said Macomb County Public Works Director Candice Miller, who has campaigned for years against clogging pumps with rags. In 2018, a 100-foot “grease mountain” of fats, oils, grease and solids, including flushable wipes, clogged Macomb County’s sewer system, requiring a $100,000 cleanup. Miller said she welcomes the new law, which will help reduce the likelihood of the grease mountain returning. “I applaud the Legislature and Gov. Whitmer for establishing labeling standards for disposable wipes. This law has the potential to save millions of dollars that are currently spent to repair the damage these wipes are causing to underground systems everywhere.”

In Oakland County alone, workers responded to 474 cases of local pump station machines clogging because of wipes on the pumps over the past six years. The work cost taxpayers about $134,000, according to the Water Resources Commissioner’s office.

The problem isn’t limited to municipal wastewater treatment plants. Nearly 1.5 million septic systems in Michigan are also at risk from the wipes, which can clog pipes and don’t break down in the septic tank — requiring more frequent cleaning.

“More honest labeling of these products should help people understand the problems they create for our wastewater treatment plant operators and septic system users,” said Phil Argiroff, WRD director at EGLE. “They are not flushable and never have been. We are pleased that this has been resolved.”