Gross image that went unpunished
The company behind Kleenex has avoided punishment in the Federal Court on accusations it misled customers by claiming its moist towelettes are flushable
Consumer advocates blamed Kimberly-Clark Australia for the disgusting "fatbergs" clogging sewerage systems across Australia, saying the wet wipes don't break down when flushed.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleged the company made false or misleading representations by labelling the products as flushable, leading consumers to believe that they had similar characteristics to toilet paper.
But in the Federal Court on Friday, Justice Jacqueline Gleeson said she was not persuaded the ACCC's evidence was sufficient to support a conclusion that the wipes were unsuitable for flushing.
"If it is sufficient, I do not draw that conclusion because the instances of blockages identified by the complaints are so few in the context of the total sales of the wipes that they are properly characterised as insignificant," she said.
Consumer advocacy group Choice condemned the decision, with its head of campaigns and policy Sarah Agar saying she was "really disappointed" and insisted Australians to not flush the wipes.
"This is terrible news for people who care about the environment and our waterways," she said.
"Choice is warning Australians not to flush wipes following this disappointing court decision that means flushable wipe companies won't be held to account for clogged sewers, damaged waterways and terrible plumbing bills for Australians.
"We applaud the ACCC for taking on tough cases like this and a strong consumer regulator will have wins and losses along the way.
"We hope to see them keep testing the law in cases like this where there's clear detriment to the community."
The @acccgovau took flushable wipes to court for misleading people with their ‘flushability’ claims after @choiceaustralia tests in 2015 - looking forward to court judgment today pic.twitter.com/XObX4xw7iN— Sarah Agar (@SarahLouiseAgar) June 27, 2019
The advocacy group was confident Kimberly-Clark Australia would be slapped with a hefty fine after the maker of White King was fined $700,000 for similar accusations in April, 2018.
The Federal Court ordered the penalties against cleaning product manufacturer Pental in a court action initiated by the ACCC following a referral by consumer group Choice in 2016.
In addition to marketing the wipes between 2011 and 2016 as "flushable", Pental's packaging and promotional materials included statements 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".
The consumer watchdog commissioner Sarah Court said at the time these statements clearly misled customers.
"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," she said.
Queensland Urban Utilities spokeswoman Michelle Cull said the ruling against Pental was a "real win for our sewers".
"Wet wipes cause big problems in our sewer network and also people's household plumbing," she said at the time.
"We remove about 160 tonnes of wet wipes from our network every year.
"End to end, that's enough to stretch from Brisbane to Bali. We also spend a lot clearing blockages from our sewer pipes, about $1.5 million a year."
Kimberly-Clark Australia's court action was separate to Pental's.
- with AAP