ACCC takes court action on “flushable” wipes

12 December 2016

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd (Kimberly-Clark) and separately against Pental Limited and Pental Products Pty Ltd (together, Pental) alleging that they each made false or misleading representations in relation to ‘flushable’ wipes they marketed and supplied in Australia.

The ACCC alleges that, by labelling these products as “flushable”, consumers were led to believe that the products had similar characteristics to toilet paper, would break up or disintegrate in a timeframe and manner similar to toilet paper, and were suitable to be flushed down the toilet, when this was not the case.

“The ACCC alleges that the impression given by the representations which Kimberly-Clark and Pental each made about these products was that they were suitable to be flushed down household toilets in Australia, when this was not the case,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

“These products did not, for example, disintegrate like toilet paper when flushed. Australian water authorities face significant problems when non-suitable products are flushed down the toilet as they contribute to blockages in household and municipal sewerage systems.”

The ACCC alleges that, between May 2013 and May 2016, Kimberly-Clark variously advertised its personal hygiene wipes, Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths, as “flushable”, “completely flushable”, “able to be flushed in the toilet”, and able to “break down in sewerage system or septic tank”.

Kimberly-Clark also stated on its FAQ website for flushable wipes for Kids, that they would “break up in the sewerage or septic system like toilet paper”.

The ACCC also alleged that Kimberly-Clark advertised that these products were made in Australia when that was not the case.

In the proceedings brought against Pental, the ACCC alleges that, between February 2011 and August 2016, Pental advertised its bathroom cleaning wipes, White King Power Clean Flushable Toilet Wipes (also called White King Flushable Bathroom Power Wipes) as a “flushable toilet wipe” that disintegrated like toilet paper.

Pental’s packaging and promotional materials included statements such as “Simply wipe over the hard surface of the toilet…and just flush away”, and that its flushable wipes “are made from a specially designed material, which will disintegrate in the sewage system when flushed, just like toilet paper”.

It is alleged that, by making these representations, Kimberly-Clark and Pental engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations, in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

In both proceedings, the ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, injunctions, corrective notices, compliance program orders and costs.

Product images

Background

These proceedings follow a complaint made to the ACCC by the consumer advocate group, Choice. Choice awarded the Kimberly-Clark Flushable Wipes for Kids a “Shonky Award” in 2015.

The Kimberly-Clark products which are the subject of these proceedings are:

  • Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths - Sensitive, 42 cloths pack;
  • Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths - Sensitive (Out & About), 3x10 packs of cloths;
  • Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths - Cotton Fresh, 42 cloths pack; and
  • Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths - Kids, 42 cloths pack.

The Pental products which are the subject of these proceedings are:

  • White King Power Clean Flushable Toilet Wipes in a 40-wipe pack,
  • White King Power Clean Flushable Toilet Wipes which were also called White King Flushable Bathroom Power Wipes in a 100 wipe-pack.
Release number: 
MR 236/16
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