To flush or not to flush: Are wet wipes really as 'flushable' as they say?

To flush or not to flush - that's the contentious question over wet wipes marketed as 'flushable'.

An Australian court last week ruled in favour of a popular brand using the term - which doesn't wash with New Zealand's water industry. 

Watercare Trade Waste Manager, Merle Smuts, demonstrated that wet wipes show no signs of breaking down, while toilet paper begins to disperse quickly in water.

While some wipes are advertised as 'flushable', experts argue they cause huge disruptions in our waterways.

"They tend to bind together with other non-flushable materials like oil and fat and create fatbergs," says Water New Zealand's Technical Manager, Noel Roberts.

One example was the 130-tonne mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies found in London two years ago.

While no such monster's been discovered here, Roberts says non-flushable products like wipes are an expensive problem.

"[You're] looking at about $16 million of ratepayers money, just to unblock sewers," says Roberts.

The warning around flushing wipes is being reiterated following a controversial court decision in Australia.

A federal judge last week ruled in favour of Kimberly-Clark marketing its Kleenex Cottonelle Cleansing Cloths as suitable for flushing.

"It leaves the misconception out there that certain wipes are flushable and therefore they all might be," Roberts says.

Roberts says at the heart of this dispute are different standards used to determine what is flushable, often set by the manufacturer.

New Zealand and Australia are currently working on a joint set of standards, but until then, the advice is clear.

"The only things that should be going down the toilet are the 'three Ps' - pee, poo and toilet paper," says Smuts.