Flushable nonwoven wipes
are a convenient and cost-effective product that has quickly grown in popularity. These products are commonly used for toilet, diaper and feminine hygiene purposes.
However, they can cause considerable damage to municipal sewer systems and have poor environmental outcomes if flushed into the environment without proper disposal. Currently, there is confusion among consumers and wastewater professionals about how to dispose of these materials.
In addition to containing non-renewable plastics, many wipes are not biodegradable and will not break down in landfills.
Despite these issues, some manufacturers are determined to find ways to offer wipes that will break down in wastewater treatment plants and meet new flushability guidelines.
One way to solve the issue is by ensuring that all nonwoven materials used in the manufacture of single-use wipes are flushable and fully degradable after disposal. This means a nonwoven material must be made of plant-based fibers and not contain any plastic.
To ensure that a nonwoven material is flushable, the length, aspect ratio and roughness of the fibres are crucial. Shorter fibres are favoured for flushability, as they can be dispersed more easily in the sewer system and will therefore be less likely to clog pumps or sewage systems.
Several test specifications are available to determine the dispersibility of a nonwoven material. A slosh box test is one of the most widely-used methods. In addition to meeting INDA and EDANA guidelines, these tests can also be modified to account for different sewer system conditions or wastewater treatment plant (WWT) treatment processes.