Assembly Bill 1672 passed one of the hardest roadblocks in the Assembly late last week, squeaking by in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Under AB 1672, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), all disposable ‘non-woven’ products in California would need to be labeled saying that they should not be flushed down. Products covered under the bill include all disposable wet wipes and flushable wipes frequently used for infant care and by adults wanting a hygienic alternate to toilet paper.
Environmental concerns and sewage issues
Those supportive of the bill include environmental groups, sewer system employees, and other organizations worried about the impact the wipes have been having. Environmentally, many wipes are hard to break down in a short period of time due to the materials being used in the wipes. Some of them are plastic based, which supporters have said are a huge polluting factor in waterways and oceans. Other supporters have pointed to the hard figures showing that wipes can cause major sewer issues. In Great Britain alone, disposable wipes cause about 80% of all sewer blockages there, costing millions a year to unclog. In October of 2018, Charleston, South Carolina’s worst sewage incident ever was found to have been caused by a blockage of disposable wipes. While Californian cities haven’t released statistics on the matter, many California sewer and septic workers have said it’s a growing problem.
“We’re seeing more and more of it,” said Elliot Ross, a septic services worker in Northern California. “We’ve been called out for clogs and backups a lot, and if I see the couple has a baby or two, it’s better than even odds it’s the wipes they’ve been using causing it. My older partner on call outs has sometimes been doing a Carnac routine before he even meets the homeowner.”
“I can only imagine what cities have been going through, or worse, what it looks like down there.”
Several cities, such as New York City and Washington, D.C. have already put limits on wipes due to the problems they had on their systems.
Wipe manufacturers come out against AB 1672
Many disposable wipe manufacturers have come out against the bill, arguing that their wipes don’t cause sewer issues or hurt the environment. Companies are also worried about the ‘flushable’ criteria in the bill, saying that it it is too specific.
However, in recent weeks, Assemblyman Bloom worked with companies to amend and change the language in the bill. Large parts of the bill, such as language saying the wipes contain microplastics, have either been taken out or rewritten.
“We removed most of the language to accommodate the opposition and bring them to the negotiating table,” said Assemblyman Bloom’s office in an email. “The Assemblymember is hopeful we will add amendments in the coming months that will turn the bill into something that will be effective.”
A growing environmental bill trend
And on Thursday it passed 13-4 in Appropriations, one of the hardest Committees to get past. In the next several weeks AB 1672 needs to prepare for Assembly and Senate votes, meaning that language in the bill needs to be worked through again, as Assemblyman Bloom and supporters expect even heavier opposition from industry lobbyists
AB 1672 joins other environmental and plastic-lessening bills such as SB 372 in marking a quickly growing environmental bill trend by lawmakers this year.