In the UK we get through a whopping 10.9 billion wet wipes a year. Made up of baby wipes, make up remover wipes and moist toilet tissue wipes. But, did you know that most of them contain ‘hidden plastic’ ,usually polyester, which are causing untold damage to our waterways, including our oceans and the life within them.
Unfortunately, Philip Hammond did not address the issue of single use plastic and the potential tax levy in the UK budget last week (October 2018) only concentrating on a potential tax on plastic production and packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic content. Even this is only a maybe levy and will need further consultation. So, in the meantime single use plastic is here to stay, despite 162,000 of us signing a petition to introduce a levy at point of purchase. (the biggest ever response rate of a government petition)
So, what’s the problem with wet wipes? Alot of them get flushed down our toilets and we assume that they will be treated like toilet paper. But, as I said earlier they are of synthetic composition and although many of them will be caught by filters in water waste treatment some break in to smaller pieces which cannot be caught and escape in to our sewers and eventually our rivers.
The wipes build up in the sewers and form what is known as a ‘Fatberg’ – an accumulation of wipes, fat, tampons, etc. Thames Water recently cleared a 250 m fatberg undert Whitechapel in central London which took skilled engineers 9 weeks to remove and weighed in at the same weight as 11 double decker buses. Although the water companies are certainly doing their bit to reduce this problem and build awareness it is a sad fact that unfortunately alot of the fatberg content will leach when heavy rainfall has occurred leading the blockages to overflow in to our rivers as the sewer is unable to cope.
This can have devastating effects on our river and marine life as the wipes are breeding grounds for bacteria and also for toxic chemicals to attach themselves to. Often mistaken for food, fish and other water wildlife end up eating them and even if they don’t then the bacteria laden wipe will float building up further toxins.
SOME KEY FACTS
So, what can we do to prevent this? Firstly, the 3 P’s apply re flushing items down the toilet. Namely, only
PEE PAPER & POO
Some wet wipes manufacturers are doing their bit by clearly labelling their wipes as not flushable, but some still have flushable labelling, when in fact they are not! Some manufacturers are starting to look at the material composition but still it is doubtful that they would fully biodegrade like loo paper.
You should put used wipes in the bin, but this begs the question – where will they end up?? You guessed it – in landfill! So, we are back to the problem of a single use item not being able to be recyled – aargh!!
Click the link above to watch a little vid all about flushing wet wipes! (credit: Thames Water)
We don’t use wet wipes anymore, along with using reusable make up wipes, we have recently done away with kitchen roll – now using re-usable cotton cloths that can be washed over and over again !
Small steps – big change