Kimberly-Clark Moves to Settle ‘Flushable’ Wipes Suit

Kimberly-Clark Corp. has reached a settlement over its so-called “flushable” wipes that will include better labeling, manufacturing improvements and two years of testing -- a win for U.S. cities and counties that say the products have sparked a rise in costly sewer blockages.

As part of the proposed settlement with the water management system of Charleston, South Carolina, the maker of Scott toilet paper has agreed that its Cottonelle wipes labeled as “flushable” will meet the wastewater industry’s standards by May 2022. The lawsuit against Kimberly-Clark and other wipes manufacturers and retailers accuses the companies of selling “flushable” products that fail to disintegrate like toilet paper.

Kimberly-Clark isn’t admitting any fault or wrongdoing under the settlement, a copy of which was sent to Bloomberg News by the Charleston Water System. Litigation against other companies in the lawsuit continues, including Costco Wholesale Corp., Procter & Gamble Co., CVS Health Corp., Target Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc.

In a statement to Bloomberg News, Kimberly-Clark said it “has committed to even further improving the performance” of its flushable wipes under the settlement. The company said that its Cottonelle wipes already “pass widely accepted flushability specifications and are tested with plumbers.”

The company also referred to a statement on the Charleston Water System website, dated April 25, that says Cottonelle’s wipes are the only ones that are safe for the city’s sewer system. Kimberly-Clark declined to disclose any financial details about the cost of modifications to its manufacturing.

The agreement is important for an industry that has largely maintained that its flushable wipes do indeed break down in water as advertised -- contrary to statements from municipalities that the products are creating a growing blockage problem. Water management professionals say the “fatbergs,” as the masses of accumulated material are known, are made up largely of wipes that consumers put in their toilets instead of the trash can.

Kimberly-Clark’s move to settle will pressure the rest of the industry to take similar action, said Mike Saia, a representative for Charleston Water System, or CWS. He said the agency plans to continue its lawsuit against the other companies.

‘Critical Benchmark’

“This sets a critical benchmark. This is a big day for the wastewater industry,” Saia said. The agency called on other wipe manufacturers to commit to the same standards and help educate the public about “the serious consequences when non-flushable wipes are disposed of down the toilet.”

The settlement has been submitted to the federal court in South Carolina, which hasn’t yet approved the agreement, according to CWS.

The case is Commissioners of Public Works v. Costco, 21-cv-00042, U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina (Charleston).

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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