Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 397.
There is a strong case for requiring more prominent instructional labeling on disposable cleaning and personal hygiene products that are regularly clogging sewer and septic systems. Products like these have gained in popularity in recent years and include disposable cleaning or disinfecting wipes, baby wipes, and moist towelettes. Many of these products do not disintegrate easily and are not intended to be flushed, but people don’t know that and they are flushing them anyway. The lack of clear disposal instructions and confusing labeling and marketing has created this gap in consumer awareness and led to costly and dangerous blockages for wastewater utilities. This is nationwide problem and a real issue here in Maine.
For example, a survey completed in 2011 by the Maine Water Environment Association showed that nearly 90% of respondents had suffered problems such as clogged pumps and sewer backups in their systems that were caused by these products. Many towns and departments that responded to the survey say that they tried public education and outreach but had little success. The average respondent reported spending $40,500 to address this issue, and had to either raise money or take money away from other infrastructure projects to foot the bill.
Establishing a uniform, clearly recognizable image prominently placed on all products that should not be flushed is a simple solution that will go a long way toward educate consumers about how to properly dispose of these products—and save Maine towns real money. The problem is that there is no state or federal standard for defining “flushability” or labeling products as “flushable,” and LD 397 will help change that.
In 2013, four organizations including the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA); the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA); the Water Environment Federation (WEF); and the American Public Works Association (APWA) issued a joint press release that acknowledged the severity of this problem and stated that they intended to work together to reduce the burden of non-flushable disposable products in the wastewater system. However, it is now 2015 and not much has changed. It is time to create a regulatory framework for the industry to act on, and stop flushing money down the toilet.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.