AUSTRALIA (From news reports) -- Australia's consumer watchdog is appealing against a Federal Court decision that found the makers of so-called flushable wipes did not mislead their customers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had taken manufacturer Kimberly-Clark to court over its "flushable" Kleenex Cottonelle wipes, claiming it broke the law with its marketing.
Last month, the Federal Court ruled the ACCC's case failed, except in relation to an admission that a claim the product was made in Australia was false.
The ACCC today announced it will appeal against that ruling, arguing the court made an error when it found sewerage blockages have many causes, not just the disposal of "non-flushable" wipes into toilets.
"We will argue on appeal that Kimberly-Clark's flushable claims should have been found to be misleading because there was evidence of the risk of harm these wipes posed to the sewerage system, and that the trial judge was wrong to require evidence that these particular wipes had caused actual harm," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.
"The ACCC will also argue that the court made an error by rejecting the ACCC's case that Kimberly-Clark had claimed the Kleenex Wipes would break up quickly like toilet paper when flushed."
Justice Jacqueline Gleeson said in June it was reasonable to infer that Kimberly-Clark wipes did contribute to some blockages, but there was no evidence of a significant risk to the sewerage system.
Faecal matter and toilet paper also contributed to problems in waterways, Justice Gleeson said.
She said it was "not self-evident" that a wipe designed to be flushed down the toilet was not suitable for flushing because it contributed to sewerage blocking.
The "flushable" claim was based on the wipes passing "flushability" tests set by the International Nonwovens and Disposables Association and European Disposables and Nonwovens Association.
Mr Sims said the court had set the bar too high in requiring evidence that the Kimberly-Clark wipes had caused blockages.
"We believe that that's ... impossible to show, when you get these great fatbergs as they're described with all sorts of terrible things in them," he said.
"It should have been sufficient to show that there was a risk of harm."
The initial court action was prompted by 28 consumer complaints to Kimberly-Clark.
The ACCC argued by claiming the wipes were "flushable", the company led consumers to believe they were compatible with Australian sewerage systems.
The four kinds of wipes which were the subject of the court case had since been discontinued and replaced with new types of flushable wipes, the ACCC said.
"The ACCC is aware of problems continuing to be reported by Australian water authorities as a result of non-suitable products, such as wet wipes, being flushed down the toilet and contributing to blockages and other operational issues," Mr Sims said.
The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) welcomed the ACCC's decision to appeal against the court ruling and said the issue of flushability was costing the urban water industry millions of dollars each year.
WSAA called for clearer labelling for consumers and flagged the development of an Australian Standard for Flushable Products to tackle problems with blockages.
"Until the standard is finalised we advise consumers to only flush the three Ps -- pee, poo and toilet paper," executive director Adam Lovell said.
Kimberly-Clark Australia and New Zealand's managing director Doug Cunningham said the company was "disappointed" by the ACCC's decision.
"At Kimberly-Clark we take the truthfulness and accuracy of our claims and marketing seriously," he said in a statement.
"Our Kleenex Flushable Wipes are safe to be flushed and we will continue to rigorously defend that position."
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