State senator introduces bill to ban non-flushable wipes

By: - March 2, 2023 7:23 am

Utilities authorities nationwide say non-flushable wipes are wreaking havoc on the sewage infrastructure and causing expensive damage. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

As utilities nationwide struggle with keeping disposable wipes from clogging sewer pipes, one New Jersey lawmaker wants to ban the non-flushable kind entirely.

Sen. Joe Cryan, a Union County Democrat whose day job is running the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, calls the wipes the “bane of the industry.”

“By the way, if you want one of the worst jobs in the world, be the guy who has to go stand in five feet of stuff and take those wipes off the screen that are meant to clean outflow. It happens way too often,” Cryan said.

His bill to ban the products, which he introduced Monday, is “the industry’s worst nightmare,” he said.

The bill (S3649) would ban the sale of non-flushable wipes in New Jersey, with businesses facing fines up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for any subsequent offenses. Businesses could also be held financially liable for damages caused by flushed wipes.

It would go into effect six months after being signed.

Cryan said the bill targets large companies that profit by not using biodegradable material, which can be more expensive to produce. He noted an Environmental Protection Agency report that says sewer backups can threaten public health.

The agency warns consumers not to flush disposable wipes. Putting synthetic materials that do not break down or disintegrate into sewage and septic systems can cause costly — and disgusting — damage. Utilities have coined the word “fatberg” to describe the mass created when flushable wipes, congealed grease, and personal hygiene products combine inside pipes.

Cryan’s proposal led to some immediate opposition, especially from parents. Alexandra Wilkes, a Republican strategist who’s a mom of a two-year-old with another baby due in a few months, said losing a convenient hygiene product she uses multiple times a day would create a huge obstacle.

Wilkes said she’s unaware of any widely available wipe alternatives other than an old-fashioned washcloth. She noted that big brands producing wipes the bill would ban are accessible to all parents, unlike more niche brands making flushable or biodegradable wipes that may be harder to find or are pricier.

“The one thing that a supermarket in Ridgewood has in common to one in Paterson is that you can find Pampers or Huggies wipes,” she said.

Wilkes said she wonders whether Cryan considered the impact his bill would have on parents, elderly people, people with disabilities — or even just people who prefer wipes. It’s an overregulation of people’s hygiene, she said.

“I’ve actually been attracted as a consumer to diaper products that purport to be more biodegradable. Here’s the big asterisk: All of those options cost more money or require more of an upfront investment than the alternative,” Wilkes said. “If you’re a family on a tight budget or living on a fixed income, those options might not be possible.

Sates like California and Washington have passed laws mandating labeling requirements for non-flushable wipes. Hawaii is considering a ban.

Cryan, who noted his grandchildren range from 1 to 7 years old, said he’s changed “more than plenty of diapers in my lifetime.”

“The intention is to find the right solution, not to attack anybody for what they know or don’t know,” Cryan said. “What I’m hoping for is that there’s discussion, education — potentially a way to solve the problem that doesn’t come with a complete ban. But it’s time to deal with the issue on a serious nature.”

Cryan’s bill has no co-sponsors and no companion bill in the Assembly. It awaits a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.