business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, in the Eye-Opener, MNB reported that the growing popularity of wet wipes - which are meant to replace toilet paper, and that are being embraced by people who are concerned about their personal hygiene - are having a negative impact in one particular area - they can congeal with grease and don't dissolve, which means that they can jam up sewer pumps and have to be cleared by hand.

According to a Cincinnati Business Courier story, "wet wipes pose problems for sewers from here to London, according to news reports. Earlier this summer, it took 10 days to dislodge a 15-ton clog of flushed wet wipes and grease from a sewer in London. The size of a double-decker bus, the so-called fatberg clog had reduced the flow in a sewer tunnel by 95 percent. It was discovered after people complained their toilets had stopped flushing."

While there are different kinds of wipes - some flushable, some not, with labels that reflect this fact - the problem seems to be growing.

Well, yesterday I got an email from Dave Rousse, president of INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry,informing me that his organization has joined forces with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the American Public Works Association (APWA), "to work together to reduce the burden of non flushable disposable products in the wastewater system."

Rousse wrote that "the wipes marketed as 'flushable' that pass the industry Guidelines (7 tests, all of which must be passed) are NOT the cause of the problem.  Better labeling, and consumers paying attention to the labeling, will reduce the burden on the wastewater systems."
KC's View:
I have to be honest. I had no idea there was an Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. Hell, until yesterday I didn't even know there was a nonwoven fabrics industry, because I never thought about it. (I checked their website, and saw that they have a number of meetings and conferences each year. It is now my goal to get invited to speak at one of them.)

It's funny. As I thought about this story, there were a ton of jokes that immediately came to mind, especially because in my view, the wet wipe category strikes me as one that has been invented to replace a segment - toilet paper - that was working perfectly well. (Except, of course, in certain parts of Europe, where "bring your own" was a maxim to be taken seriously.) Wet wipes, it seemed to me, was a category created by marketing that people didn't really need or want.

Except...the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that there are an awful lot of us that use products every day that at some point we never would have believed we needed or wanted. Innovation. combined with savvy marketing, isn't a negative thing ... even if we can make jokes about it.

I'm not sure that I'm going to switch to wet wipes anytime soon, but I'm very sure that this is going to be a growing category, supported by smart marketing and growing concerns about personal hygiene. No jokes here.