A website for Andrex toilet wipes, www.andrex.co.uk, seen on 21 April 2019, featured text which stated "Let's talk about 'flushability'”. The web page featured a logo headed "flushable" with text beneath which stated "Look for this label!". Further text stated "At Kimberly-Clark we test all our products to make sure they pass all INDA and EDANA industry standards (they're the international associations serving the nonwovens and related industries that set guidelines on flushability of wet wipes). This means our flushable Washlets are specially designed to break down in moving water, so they won't block your toilet if your sewage system is well maintained and you follow the directions on the packaging".
The complainant challenged whether the claim "flushable" was misleading.
Kimberly-Clark Ltd said the product complied with INDA (Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry) and EDANA (European Disposables and Nonwovens Association) GD4 guidelines for Assessing the Flushability of Disposable Nonwoven Products, meaning that they neither blocked a user’s toilet nor contributed to blockages in the sewerage system. They referenced a judgment of the Federal Court of Australia of June 2019 which stated that INDA and EDANA’s previous GD3 guidelines (which were updated to form their GD4 guidelines) represented a conscientious and scientific effort to establish an appropriate framework for assessing ‘flushability’ and that those products that followed GD4 should therefore also be considered in the same light. Kimberly-Clark said that they recognised their product did not meet Water UK’s Fine to Flush specification developed by Water Research Centre (WRc) but disagreed that was the most useful measure of whether a wipe was flushable. They said that Water UK’s study on “Wipes in Sewer Blockage” of December 2017 found no evidence that wipes compliant with GD3 guidelines were the cause of any blockages analysed.
The ASA noted the terms “Flushability” and “Flushable” appeared at the top of the web page, with the latter forming part of the label given to the product to signify its ability to be flushed down the toilet. The label included an image of a hand throwing a wipe into an open toilet above the text “Look for this label”. In that context, we considered that consumers would understand from the ad that there was a single standard used to determine whether a product was capable of being flushed down the toilet without causing blockages and that the label was the standardised marker which notified them that products met that standard. We understood that there was no single marker which signified a product was flushable, nor was there a single universal standard on ‘flushability’.
We understood the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) were working with the water sector and manufacturers of wet wipes on ways to tackle the problem of backed-up sewers. They supported the water industry’s ongoing work in ensuring any wipes which were marked as flushable were truly flushable, meaning they could enter the sewerage system without causing any blockages or harming the environment. We understood that Water UK, a trade association which represented the UK’s water and sewerage companies, gave those products that passed their testing on ‘flushability’ the ‘Fine to Flush’ label. Andrex Washlets had not been given that label and Water UK did not agree that it could be assumed that products that conformed to INDA and EDANA guidelines would meet their Fine to Flush standard. We noted Kimberly-Clark’s comments that those products that complied with INDA and EDANA’s GD3 guidelines had not been found to cause any blockages in Water UK’s study of 2017, but also that Water UK maintained the sewer blockages found in their 2017 report largely consisted of an unidentified mass of wipes, which made it impossible to draw conclusions about the nature of the wipes that caused the blockage. Consequently, we considered that in order to make an informed decision, it was material for consumers to know that another accreditation existed in relation to a product’s ‘flushability’, which Andrex Washlets had not been given. In the absence of qualifying information to that effect, we concluded that the claim “flushable” was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Kimberly-Clark Ltd to ensure that their future advertising did not omit material information, such as that the products did not conform to other relevant UK standards on whether a product was considered flushable.