Marketing claims have been put to the test – and failed – in court as a company responsible for selling ‘flushable’ cleaning wipes is handed a $700,000 penalty, although the fine could have been much larger.
Listed Australian firm Pental, which manufactures a range of home and hygiene products, including the White King cleaning wipes, advertised the product with slogans such as “Simply wipe over the hard surface of the toilet…and just flush away”, and “White King Toilet Wipes are made from a specially designed material, which will disintegrate in the sewage system when flushed, just like toilet paper”.
However, in court, Pental admitted that its wipes were not made from materials similar to toilet paper and would not disintegrate when flushed.
The proceedings were initiated after a complaint from consumer group Choice, which singled out a similar product by Kleenex in 2015 through its annual “Shonky Awards”. The ACCC has ongoing legal proceedings against Kimberly-Clark Australia, maker of the Kleenex ‘flushable’ wipes.
In addition to the $700,000 penalties, Pental was also ordered to pay the ACCC’s costs, undertake compliance training and make public declarations of the verdict.
“The Court’s decision shows that businesses face serious consequences if they make false or misleading statements about the nature of their products,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court.
“The ACCC took action against Pental due to concerns that consumers were being misled into believing that the wipes were suitable to be flushed.
“These White King wipes can’t be flushed down the toilet, and Australian wastewater authorities face significant problems if they are because they can cause blockages in household and municipal sewerage systems.”
In a statement to the ASX, the listed manufacturer said that its contribution to the competition regulator’s costs is estimated to be $110,000 over and above the $700,000 fine. Yet, the company admitted that it got off lightly.
“Pental had admitted to certain facts and orders to be made other than the amount of the penalty, and in light of this cooperation and other factors, the Federal Court reduced the penalty that was otherwise sought by more than 50 per cent,” Pental said.
“Reasons for judgement will be published in due course.”
Following the verdict, Sydney Water issued a statement welcoming the judgement, and called all manufacturers and retailers to avoid contributing to the problem of blocked sewer pipes by correctly labelling their products as non-flushable.
“This action comes after Sydney Water’s award-winning campaign to ‘keep wipes out of pipes’ which sparked a broader conversation about what should and shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet,” the utility provider’s spokesperson Jackson Vernon said.
“Blockages caused by bathroom products have been a big issue for water utilities and their customers across Australia for several years. It’s costing the community millions of dollars every year to deal with the blockages these products cause in the wastewater system.”
“Sydney Water hopes this judgement reinforces our message to the community that wipes should not go down toilets and drains and we support any moves by manufacturers that help in this area.”