N.J. state senator waters down plan to ban non-flushable wipes

Requiring a ‘do not flush’ label is a common sense approach that will benefit both industries and consumers, the bill’s sponsor said

By: - May 15, 2023 11:45 am

New Jersey state Sen. Joe Cryan, a Democrat, said his goal was never to ban wipes outright, but to bring attention to a disgusting and expensive problem (Photo by the New Jersey Monitor).

After years of calling for stronger labeling requirements for non-flushable wipes to avoid clogged drains and expensive repairs, New Jersey state Sen. Joe Cryan introduced a dramatic measure earlier this year that would have outright banned the sale of the wipes and fined businesses tens of thousands of dollars for selling them.

Now that bill is expected to merge during a legislative hearing Monday with another measure that would require only that non-flushable wipes be properly labeled, Cryan, a Democrat, said. 

It would have been “ridiculous” to prohibit the sale of wipes, Cryan conceded, saying his initial plan brought attention to the problem of drains clogged with dirty wipes. He said the “amount of abuse” he received after introducing the bill was worth it to “help get something effective moving along.” 

“My goal was to raise attention,” said Cryan, who runs the Middlesex County Utilities Authority. “I admit there’s frustration — the people I work with that have to put life and limb on the line for corporate profit was also part of the motivation — but after bills like this being stagnant, there’s finally movement.” 

Non-flushable wipes have created a stink for workers who have to unclog massive sewer systems because the synthetic material doesn’t break down in water, said Cryan. He first introduced a bill to label non-flushable wipes in 2016. 

During the Senate Commerce Committee meeting on Monday, the measure is expected to combine with Sen. Gordon Johnson’s, D-Bergen, bill that would require wipes to be labeled with clear “do not flush” logos and prohibit the sale of wipes without proper labeling. It would exclude any products that are sewer or septic-safe. 

The logo would be required to be proportional to the size of the package, and include an image of a person dropping an item in a toilet superimposed with a diagonal line, indicating that flushing the item is not permitted. The logo would not be allowed to be obscured by “seams or folds,” and it would have to be visible at all times when wipes are dispensed one at a time.  

Cryan said the bill mirrors federal legislation recently introduced in Congress. Federal agencies already warn consumers not to flush wipes because of the havoc they can wreak on sewage systems. 

The bill has broad support among his colleagues, according to Cryan. A similar bill in the Assembly has not yet been voted on.

Cryan said he believes requiring a “do not flush” label is a common sense approach that will benefit both industries and consumers. 

“No one’s going to lose their wipes,” Cryan said. “All we’re hoping for in the industry is that there’s less chance of folks having to go into these confined spaces and deal with some life-threatening risks in order to run our sewer systems.”

This story first appeared in the New Jersey Monitor, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a reporter for the New Jersey Monitor, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.