Wet wipes are the cause of 90% of sewer blockages around the United Kingdom, according to Water UK. They pollute the water and cause damage to wildlife once they get into the waterways. Even “flushable” wet wipes and baby wipes are not safe to flush. When flushed, they mix with grease and other refuse, causing major sewer blockages. Then, because they don’t break down they can be a major source of pollution in oceans.
Wipes are an issue from beginning to end of their life. Wipes marked “flushable” by companies carry that designation because they reportedly disintegrate. Research found this to be a fallacy. When flushed, the wipes cause expensive blockages as well as environmental damage. An environmental group called Thames21 found 5,452 wipes along the riverbank in an area the size of a tennis court.
Fixing the flushing requires companies to address marketing and consumers to stop flushing. Speaking about the problem in the UK, Water UK’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Rae Stewart gave tips to solve the problem, “There are things that water companies can do, such as improve education about what should and shouldn’t be flushed. There are things manufacturers can do, such as make labelling clearer on non-flushable products. And, of course, there are things individuals can do – which is bin the wipes rather than flush them.”
Because wet wipes contain plastic, they are harmful for the marine life and do not disintegrate as fast as consumers think. Friends of the Earth UK did a study titled, “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution.” Wet wipes are associated with waterways and therefore a problem that needs to be solved, and can be addressed through consumer education. Wet wipes are usually made of synthetic plastics mixed with wood fibers. Because they are not 100% grabbed by water treatment plants as they go through the sewer, they can end up in the ocean. And that’s when they harm marine life.
Read more about plastic and marine life in One Green Planet. And check out this One Green Planet article on the lifecycle of plastic. Make sure to also check out our guide on Everything You Need to Know About Plastic Pollution!
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