Wet wipes are a great convenience – whether for removing makeup after a long day, cleaning the kitchen or caring for your baby. But it is widely known that they also clog up sewers and are in large part responsible for nasty ‘fatbergs’ that build up in waterways.
Brands have responded over recent years by marketing “flushable” wipes, but a new study has claimed that nine out of ten of those are not flushable at all.
Water Research Centre has found the wipes do not degrade in sewer conditions. The wet wipes industry disputes the findings, saying they are found to be degradable in their own tests – but Water Research Centre says the tests carried out by the industry don’t accurately replicate sewer conditions.
So What’s The Deal – Should You Flush Them Or Not?
Current advice is that consumers should not flush wet wipes at all and instead put them in the bin. According to a study Middlesex University, many wet wipes contain microplastics – which aren’t great for the environment, and can take 100 years to break down.
But there is disagreement over “flushable” wipes. As part of its testing, the Water Research Centre put wipes into flasks full of water and rotated them on a shaking platform – to mimic the turbulence of water conditions in a sewer and found they didn’t break down.
“Customers believe they are behaving responsibly by buying wet wipes marketed as flushable, but they don’t read the detail on the packet. They won’t realise it says flush one or two at a time, not a handful. And it embeds the behaviour of using a toilet as a bin,” Tony Griffiths from water company United Utilities told the BBC.
Water manufacturers told the BBC that only the “three Ps” should ever go down the toilet: pee, poo and paper.
What Are The Alternatives?
If you can’t do without disposable wet wipes, there are more environmentally friendly alternatives – though water companies insist they should never go down the loo either.
To avoid adding to the microplastics build up, opt for a plastic-free wipes made with fibrous materials such as cellulose from wood pulp but not containing reinforcing materials such as viscose, which is a plastic.
The brand Say Yes To Cucumbers, which is available at Boots, sells wipes made from compostable fabrics. CannyMum is an online brand that makes baby wipes from bamboo fibres and the widely available Ecover brand of cleaning products markets a biodegradable cleaning wipe range.