Tauranga Mayor calls for restrictions on so-called 'flushable' wet wipes

Tauranga is following in the footsteps of the UK by calling for restrictions on single-use so-called 'flushable' wet wipes.  

Every week, more than two tonnes of wipes are removed from the Tauranga's waste water system, and the mayor has now called on the Government to stop wet wipe manufacturers claiming the products are 'flushable'. 

"We would like the Government to stop use of the word 'flushable' on wet wipes for advertising, and preferably we would prefer people not flush anything down the loo other than pee, poo and paper," Greg Brownless told The AM Show. 

The mayor said it's a "serious issue", adding that Mt Maunganui has had several sewage overflows into the harbour. On at least one occasion, he said, pumps were found to be clogged with wet wipes. 

Last month, the horrific sight of a mound of oily, stinking wipes - among other junk - was shared by the Charleston Water System, in South Carolina, on social media. 

Divers ventured more than 30 metres into a raw sewage pipe to find out what was blocking it, and found a massive, black, slimy, filthy mound of wet wipes and baby wipes that had been flushed down the toilet. 

While some companies market such wipes as "flushable", the Charleston Water System stressed that's not the case. Wet wipes are known to collect grease and other junk floating through the sewage, congealing into a disgusting and unmovable mound.

The government of the United Kingdom says it plans to eliminate plastic waste in the coming decade, including "single use products like wet wipes," the BBC reported in May. 

Wet wipes are said to be behind 93 percent of sewer blockages in the UK, according to Water UK, the trade body representing sewage companies across the country. The wipes contribute to giant filthy 'fatberg' mounds similar to what was discovered in Charleston. 

Mr Brownless wants the New Zealand Government to amend the country's advertising standards so that wet wipes manufacturers cannot advertise their products as being 'flushable'. 

"I think most people, once they know, they're not going to [flush wet wipes down the toilet], because it can not only block our sewage system, but it could block up on your own property, and if it does that, you're responsible for fixing it," he said. 

New Zealand's water systems aren't "too bad", he added, and until the wet wipes businesses came along, the country wasn't "having too many overflows at all". 

"Our sewage system here is pretty good," said Mr Brownless. "You can engineer for anything, but the cost of it is huge."

New Zealand water utility company Watercare said last year that build-ups of fat, grease and oil which make up 'fatbergs' are "a constant battle" to keep under control in New Zealand's sewage systems. 

The comment came after a sinkhole opened up in Dannevirke, in response to a sewer pipe failure caused by a mass of fat as well as rats, who had been feeding on it.

Earlier this year, Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, floated a potential ban on wet wipes, saying she would be keeping "a close watch" on what's happening in the UK.

"Consumers can think about the impacts of convenience products like wet wipes," she told Newshub at the time.