• Should We Ditch Wet Wipes?

Water/Wastewater

Should We Ditch Wet Wipes?

May 22 2018

Wet wipes have become an increasingly commonplace part of our daily lives. Whether it’s removing makeup, wiping up the messes caused by our little ones or performing general cleaning duties around the kitchen and bathroom, they bring ease and convenience to our lives.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the environment. People flushing wet wipes down the toilet is the single biggest cause of sewer blockages – in fact, they accounted for 93% of the matter which caused such blockages last year. This, in turn, has a huge knock-on effect on the environment, meaning it may be time to phase these convenient but contaminating household items out of our daily routine.

Impacts both environmental and economic

The vast majority of wet wipes contain microplastic fibres which do not biodegrade in the environment. Despite this, many people still believe it’s safe to flush them down the toilet, resulting in over 300,000 sewer blockages every year. The economic impact this has on the country is huge; it costs the government around £100 million of taxpayers’ money to unclog the drains.

What’s more, these blockages can also have an incredibly damaging effect on the natural world. According to research conducted by environmental group Plastic Oceans Foundation, eight million tons of plastic find their way into our oceans per annum. Although the world of science is coming up with new and ever more innovative ways to monitor plastic pollution – including combining forensic science with artificial intelligence – preventing the plastic from entering the ocean would be far preferable to trying to clean it up after the event.

A greener way

The best possible course of action would be to dispense with wet wipes altogether. There are plenty of reusable alternatives out on the market for all of the purposes for which wet wipes are currently used. Organic, biodegradable cotton pads are best for removing makeup, while a reusable J-cloth and eco-friendly surface cleaners are best for home maintenance. When it comes to baby care, using an old-fashioned flannel or baby cloth might not be as convenient as a wet wipe, but it’s a whole lot more environmentally-friendly.

On the other hand, if you really must use wet wipes, at least source a biodegradable option which doesn’t use any plastics in its composition. Binning instead of flushing is all-important, too; no matter what the packaging may say, there are simply no products on the market which are suitable for disposal down the drain – even the most advanced water monitoring facilities can’t handle them.

“Water companies spend billions of pounds every year making our water and sewerage services world class, but our sewerage system is just not designed to handle things like baby wipes which don’t break down in water,” says Rae Stewart, director of corporate affairs for Water UK. Bin that wipe – or better yet, don’t buy it in the first place!


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