Bin the wipe (or better yet, don’t buy it)

We know pollution is bad for our waterways. A major contributor to water pollution is wet wipes. Wipes get flushed down the toilet and get thrown away in our rivers and oceans. They block pipes and cause problems for water companies. They cause harm to wildlife in rivers and seas. 

Wipes are often made from plastic (polypropylene) or petroleum based fabrics like polyester and rayon. Even when wet wipes are plastic-free, biodegradable and made from bamboo or viscose (an FSC wood based material), they are not easily broken down. They’ll still take months. 

When wipes are ingested by wildlife, says the WWF, they stay in their stomach and cause starvation. Wet wipes have been recorded in over 240 species of wildlife, causing harm or death.

Wet wipes with plastics in them can disperse microplastics into the water system. Wastewater treatments remove almost all the microplastics but even a small quantity is harmful for the environment. These build up in the food chains of our oceans and fill the digestive systems of fish and marine mammals. 

Earlier this year, Water UK backed a campaign called ‘bin the wipe’ to educate the public on the issues caused by wet wipes. In a Savanta survey, 22% of people admit to flushing wipes down the toilet. 88% of those surveyed knew that wipes were harmful to the environment. 

“Today’s research has revealed that an alarming number of people continue to flush wet wipes down their loo, even when they know the detrimental effect this can have on issues they care about, such as the environment. “

Peter Jenkins, Director of Campaigns at Water UK

Wet wipes exacerbate the ‘fat bergs’ that cause issues in our waterways. Clearing these blockages costs us over £100m a year. 

Sanitary products and cotton buds are other items that should not be flushed. Thames Water campaign ‘bin it – don’t block it’ has catchy lyrics that go “if it is not loo roll, it is not for the lavatory”. They also have a 3 P rule – ‘pee, poo, paper’ and nothing else! 

Thames Water deals with a whopping 200 blockages everyday. Some of these blockages cause sewage floods, which are not pleasant for the residents or the water companies. That’s a good reason to remember the rules!  

The UK Government has resumed plans for a consultation about a wet wipe ban. There is some controversy over whether the ban will happen (Sky News). It didn’t in 2018 and 2021 when it was last proposed. 

They’ll ‘change the law to ban the sale of wet wipes containing plastic – subject to public consultation – and work with industry to ensure plastic-free alternatives are available, building on recent action from retailers including Boots and Tesco in response to public calls to address plastic in our water system’. 

Boots produce biodegradable wet wipes made from viscose which they acknowledge will still take months to biodegrade. 

Perhaps more importantly the government will be ‘writing to the advertising authorities and producers about using the word ‘flushable’ in wet wipes’. The words biodegradable can be misconstrued to mean safely ‘flushable’. But even ‘flushable’ wipes cause problems. 

The best option would be to not use wipes at all. Ever. The second best option is to buy biodegradable wipes and bin them rather than flushing them down the toilet.

To find sustainable products for your home & garden, visit our directory of sustainable businesses.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.