Flushed wet wipes changing UK’s landscape

Baby wipes (CC BY 2.0) by WarmSleepy

Flushed wet wipe islands are forming and rivers changing shape

Flushed wet wipes are changing the landscape of the UK as they pile up on beaches and riverbeds, MPs in the House of Commons have heard. The information has come from the first read-through of Labour MP Fluer Anderson’s plastics (wet wipes) bill. The legislation would prohibit the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastics if it were to pass through parliament and receive royal assent. 

Downing Street has pointed to wanting to end ‘throwaway culture’ and so may well give its backing to the bill. If it doesn’t, it is unlikely to become law. The evidence of the damage done by flushing wet wipes is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. The scale of the problems caused “is so big, so damaging, and increasing so fast”.

The plastics contained in flushed wet wipes break down and enter the food chain and water supply causing Britons to at a “credit card’s worth of plastic” and marine animals to die. “As a mother of four children I have used a lot of wet wipes and I completely understand the pressures that parents are under and how useful wet wipes are”, Anderson said. “ I know that parents also want to do the right thing for the environment”. 

90% of the 11bn wet wipes used in the UK each year contain some form of plastic. The Great British Beach Clean have reported seeing an increase from 1.7 wet wipes per average 100m of beach to 18 wet wipes between 2005 and 2020. Anderson told other MPs of a recent visit to the Thames where huge piles of wet wipes on the riverbanks had changed how it flowed and described seeing a ‘wet wipe island’ in the river. 

Some brands have already committed to selling plastic-free wipes, but Anderson said a ban would encourage more companies to produce the alternatives, therefore making them cheaper to buy. The wet wipe bill will be considered again on Friday 19 November.

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Written by

Claire Gordon


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