Bottom Prices – by Duncan Harley


You couldn’t make it up really. Andy Drinkwater, a spokesman for the Water Research Centre, is reported in today’s Times Scotland as saying that “a lot of the products that are marked as flushable are not really flushable.”
Seemingly sewers across the land are being bunged up with a mixture of fat balls and bum wipes.

Breakfast news on the BBC picked it up earlier today, the story not the blockage, and steam radio followed hot on the heels. Now, on reading today’s printed media, I discover that this tale of toilet woe has bled its way onto the news pages.

The issue, of course, pales into insignificance when set head to head with the plague of plastic which lines our shorelines. That international disgrace needs sorting and sorting fast before the good old fish-supper becomes the good old plastic fish and chips. I kid you not. The residue of those foamy micro-plasticised hour-long showers has come back to haunt us big-time.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports concluded that “The widespread distribution of microplastics in aquatic bodies has subsequently contaminated a diverse range of aquatic biota, including those sold for human consumption such as shellfish and mussels therefore, seafood products could be a major route of human exposure to microplastics.” And now, as if to smoke the micro-plastic mirrors we have the flushable, or more likely, non-flushable wipe story.

Seemingly manufactures are to blame. But of course, the corporate lawyers are on the case and a stern rebuff looms. The media are being careful with the story and accusations of mislabelling are about as far as they are currently prepared to go.

Headlines stating “Nine out of ten ‘flushable’ wipes do not break down” are about as far as it goes. There are no screams of “Bogged down” or “Dirty profits”. Compensation for blocked municipal sewers looks unlikely and as usual the end-user will have to foot the bill.

Of course, it’s different in Chile. The little publicised ‘Chilean Toilet Paper Scandal’ enraged the nation and led to class action compensation claims totalling $150m with every citizen over the age of 18 able to claim back 7,000 pesos from the so-called "toilet paper cartel" of CMPC and SCA. Jointly the two loo paper companies once controlled 90 percent of the Chilean toilet-paper market. At the time the scandal broke in 2015 each benefited from some $400 million in annual sales nationally at inflated prices and with almost zero competition.

The compensation package amounted to 78 percent of CMPC's dirty profits. SCA, which has not reached an agreement with consumer groups, copped an $18 million fine.
A whopper of a fine some might say and one which resulted a pay-out worth a whopping $11 for each and every Chilean citizen.

Maybe a class action is required in the UK to challenge the marketing of those so-called flushable wipes sold by companies’ intent on ignoring easily met environmental standards. How hard can it be to design toilet paper after all?

Mind you, at the end of the day, what’s wrong with using your hand I say. After all, and before shaking hands with anyone else on the planet, you can always wash it under the tap.


Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire - due out in March 2019

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