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A new national standard has been set for wet wipes in a bid to chip away at the fatberg problem plaguing Australia's sewage system.
Australia has a new weapon in the fight against fetid fatbergs that choke the nation’s sewers and cost millions each year to clear.
A new national standard has been released to make sure wet wipes and other items marketed as “flushable” really are.
Products that pass a range of tests will soon be branded with an easy-to-understand symbol indicating they can be safely disposed of down the loo without building up, trapping grease from kitchen sinks and causing fatbergs.
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It’s no small problem and one on the rise in large cities worldwide. It’s estimated Australian water utilities spend more than $20 million a year to keep pipes flowing as they should.
In April 2020, it took workers an entire day to remove a 42-tonne fatberg from a Melbourne sewer. But that was a baby compared to the monster found a year later in Birmingham in the UK. That weighed 300 tonnes and stretched for a kilometre.
Greg Ryan, from the Water Services Association of Australia, chaired the committee that developed the standard and says while it’s voluntary, it will still have teeth.
“If a manufacturer wants to claim a product is flushable then consumer advocacy groups and others, including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, can test the product against the standard,” he says.
“That could expose manufacturers to stiff penalties for making false and misleading claims.”
The new standard requires wipes and other products advertised as flushable to be plastic free and biodegradable.
They must also break down into smaller pieces relatively quickly, and pass the snag test, meaning they won’t catch on pumps that keep material flowing to water treatment plants.
“We’re anticipating that manufacturers that have this competitive advantage will do additional marketing promoting a good product, and that will lead to better awareness,” Mr Ryan says. “So we’ll get this sort of virtuous cycle.”
The ultimate objective is to keep raw sewerage inside the pipes, where it belongs.
“When you get a blockage, sewerage bubbles to the surface and it can get into waterways and contaminate downstream areas.”
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