Lobbyists Aiming to Circumvent D.C. Council, Enlist Congresses Help in Flushable Wipes

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    Lobbyists from the nonwoven fabrics industry are eyeing a D.C. law that requires companies selling wet wipes in the district either prove that they are genuinely flushable or else make clear on the packaging that they cannot be flushed.

    While “flushable” wet wipes are a popular alternative to traditional toilet tissue, it can also wreak havoc on the both private and public septic systems, clogging pump chambers. For the one-quarter of homes that currently have a septic system, the results are quickly apparent. In a city like D.C., the damage caused by the flushable wipes can be less obvious but no less destructive.

    “Every one of those [flushable] wipes weave like dreadlocks and those dreadlocks weave together,” Timothy Drumm said to the Berkshire Eagle. “And it keeps growing.”

    Drumm, who is the Wastewater Superintendent for Great Barrington, Massachusetts has also been dealing with issues from the wet wipes. In fact, it costs local taxpayers $143,000 a year simply to remove the wipes, which have congealed and obstruct important elements of the pump. Once these wipes have been collected, they must be transported to the dump.

    The D.C. law seeks to avoid similar problems by requiring all companies selling the wipes to prove that they quickly deteriorate and sink in water, or else repackage the items in order to make it clear for consumers that the product is not flushable.

    Another provision that might prove to be just as contentious requires wipes be free of plastic. Plastics is the third-largest manufacturing industry in the United States and its lobbying arm is strong, as we learned when California attempted to implement a ban on plastic bags.

    In that case, lobbyists were able to delay the law with an 800,000 name petition, requiring the bill to be voted on during the 2016 referendum election. It was later passed with 53.27% of the vote.

    At the time, the efforts of lobbyists to obstruct the bill was seen as meddlesome. “This is a cynical ploy by out-of-state interests desperate to delay a ban already adopted in more than 100 communities across California,” a spokesperson for California Governor Jerry Brown said to the Associated Press at the time.

    That is the same sentiment currently being expressed by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting Congress member from D.C., as lobbyists seek the help of the United States Congress to block the law recently passed by the District’s Council.

    “This is a serious issue,” she said to the Washington Post, “but it’s hard not to laugh when a lobbyist group is trying to keep the Congress from taking action that would keep its own sewers and the sewers of the District of Columbia from being stopped up.”

    No everyone shared her amusement. The Bill’s author, council member Mary M. Cheh, said, “This is a sneaky little backdoor way for these companies to frustrate the local decision by the people of the District of Columbia. They do it, which is really gross, at the behest of industry representatives.”

    Whether or not it is gross, however, Congress stepping in on the legislative matters of D.C. is not an entirely new tactic. In fact, it has been used on many hot-button laws passed in D.C., including abortion subsidies for low-income women, assisted suicide, and marijuana distribution.

    The lobbyists, however, say that their products are already acceptably flushable and that requiring additional testing and special packaging might cause them to pull their product from the shelves. In a meeting with one such lobbyist, Cheh decided to see whether or not their claims were accurate, placing the wipe in a bowl of water. It never dissolved.

    When speaking about the lobbyist who she was speaking with at the time of the experiment, Cheh simply said, “I never heard from him again.”

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