As I’ve written here before while COVID-19 has been an unmitigated disaster for all that classical liberals hold dear (little things like personal liberty and autonomy, privacy, a functional market economy…) it’s important to focus on the small positive effects of the 2020 pandemic. Among them, we’ve probably seen the end of the taxi-cartel grip (and government’s grip) on personal mobility and delivery. I don’t think there’s any putting the genie of “add wine to my delivery order” on Uber Eats back into the bottle.

Another bright spot is that the economy of work-styles might finally keep up more with technological progress. It took a disaster like COVID-19 to really shatter the illusion that working in big, centralized offices was really necessary or desirable for businesses to get their (white-collar) work done. The trend to decentralized work could benefit both workers (more flexibility) and the environment (less commuting, less concentrated waste streams).

But another bright spot seems to have appeared in the battle for individual liberty, consumer choice, and personal hygiene: COVID-19 seems to have utterly destroyed the prospects of anti-wipe fascists who have been moaning about clogged sewers and contaminated recyclables. Lest you think the anti-wipe fascists are just imaginary, a few examples:

In the US, the trendy thing is to blame manufacturers for sewers and plumbing clogged up by wipes, by attacking them for labeling things flushable that, the sewer police say, are not really flushable. That is, you can flush them down your toilet, but that does not flush them out of existence, and they lead to super-gross clogs in sewer systems around the country. A variety of lawsuits have been filed trying to get companies to stop labeling things flushable, or to make them pay for the added costs to the sewer system, or to change the composition of the products so that they truly dissolve in water, which, one can’t help but think, would defeat the entire purpose of wet wipes.

In the UK, Friends of the Earth wants to make wipes both less useful and less available, calling for “an end to synthetic fibres, like plastic, in wet wipes; Better, clearer messaging on wet wipes to prevent them from being flushed down toilets; and a ban on the marketing of any single-use wipes as flushable.” Things are so bad in the UK, that the war against wipes has even been likened to the war over climate change. “A new report by AMs has accused ministers of “not getting to grips with the scale of the problem.” A poor choice of words. And “After carrying out an inquiry into plastic, the assembly’s climate change committee said it had been “disappointed” by the actions ministers had taken so far.”

Meanwhile up here in Canada, “Markham Councillor Jack Heath wants to flush out what you’re putting down the toilet. He’s floating the idea of having York Region crack down on products sold as flushable, such as baby wipes and hand wipes. After all, it’s costing the region more than $1 million a year to get rid of stuff that’s not number one, number two or toilet paper bunging up the sewers.” [NB: Yes, they actually speak that way in Canada.] “Why don’t we take the outrageous step and say they (flushable products) are banned and go have our staff start removing them (from stores)?”

Meanwhile, demand for flushable wipes is soaring in the COVID-19 world. One wipe manufacturer in the US notes, “Demand is completely unprecedented, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. If you go to the store now and find a wipes shelf stocked, it’s because it was just stocked,” Menache says. “By the end of the day it will be empty.”

This doesn’t mean the war on wiping your heinie is over, as the ecofascists and sewer fascists will always put consumer choice last on their list of important values, but the massive explosion in people’s consumption of wet wipes in the COVID-19 world is unlikely to be restrained by those more concerned with limiting waste production and keeping sewers clear in the future.

My suggestion for those folks is, instead of trying to tell consumers what to like, why not tell waste disposal utilities (almost always governmentaly run) to upgrade their equipment to handle the new consumer demand safely. Would that raise sewage costs? Probably, but making that decision to pay more should belong to the consumer, not the government. After all, it is your tush at stake.

Author

  • Kenneth Green has studied energy and environmental policy at free-market think tanks in North America for over 20 years. He holds a Doctoral degree in Environmental Science and Engineering from UCLA, and has over 850 publications to his credit.