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Councillors argue disposable wipes are important in COVID world

Collingwood council supports the call for a ban on all single-use wipes and to banish the problematic 'flushable' label once and for all

Collingwood council wants you to stop flushing wipes down the toilet, but not all of them agree a ban on single-use wipes is the answer. 

Single-use wipes – even those marked flushable on the packaging – cause havoc on municipal wastewater treatment equipment. 

Collingwood’s director of engineering, public works and environmental services, Peggy Slama, said single-use wipes that are flushed do not degrade and clog the pumps. When this happens, the pump needs to be taken out of service and the clog removed before it can be operational again.

Earlier this year, the town put out a plea to residents to stop flushing wipes, gloves and masks.

The Town of Bracebridge is calling for a total ban on single-use disposable wipes, and in the meantime a standardized labelling system clearly stating the wipes are not flushable. 

Couns. Tina Comi and Yvonne Hamlin support relabelling products and further education initiatives letting people know wipes are not flushable, but, given the pandemic, they don’t want a ban on disinfectant wipes. 

Hamlin noted Bracebridge was calling for the single-use wipes ban prior to COVID-19. 

She said the virus can be eliminated on surfaces by using disinfectant wipes, and said she’s heard of emergency workers using the wipes in their vehicles. 

“They are the quickest and easiest way to eliminate the COVID virus,” said Hamlin. 

Health Canada does include Clorox disinfecting wipes on its list of hard-surface disinfectants with evidence for use against COVID-19.

“I’m not prepared to say during our fight of this virus that we should be lobbying for the elimination of these wipes being used by residents and first responders,” said Hamlin. 

Coun. Deb Doherty helped bring the ban forward for discussion at Collingwood council. 

“Single-use wipes, even when properly disposed of as waste, are an inefficient and unsustainable use of resources that contribute significantly to environmental degradation,” said Doherty. 

She supported petitioning the province to implement a ban on all single-use wipes, whether of the disinfectant or personal hygiene variety. 

Deputy Mayor Keith Hull said he supported the call for a total ban. 

“The intent here is to make our concerns aware to the upper levels of government,” said Hull. “They make their own decisions, whether it be a month from now or three years from now.” 

He suggested COVID-19 precautions have also sparked a need for further discussion on waste and single-use items. 

“I can’t imagine what the uptake has been at facilities like the hospital, long-term care facilities, even town hall, for example, in the number of items going into the trash as opposed to some other type of diversion because they’re deemed PPE,” said Hull.

“That’s a significant issue, and it’s going to have local consequences.” 

Hull questioned whether residents need to be using single-use wipes, particularly at home. 

“We need to be looking at alternatives,” he said. “I think this is the start of a much bigger, longer conversation.” 

Hull, as deputy-mayor, also sits on Simcoe County council with Mayor Brian Saunderson. The county provides curbside waste pickup and manages landfill and transfer stations for Collingwood and other local municipalities. 

Comi and Hamlin voted in support of petitioning the federal, provincial and territorial governments to order standardized labelling indicating single-use wipes are not flushable. But both voted against petitioning the provincial and federal governments to implement a ban on single-use disposable wipes. 

The rest of council voted in favour, so the motion passed and the town will send its support of the ban and the original motion from Bracebridge to upper levels of government.