With 23,000 wet wipes having recently been discovered along a small stretch of the Thames Riverbank, we decided to ask our social media followers a question:
Should wet wipes be biodegradable, or banned entirely?
We received a mixed response, with most people on Facebook and Twitter deciding they should be banned, but those on Instagram deciding biodegradable is enough.
One of the responses on Facebook sparked an interesting debate, one we thought we’d share with you!
Firstly, let’s look at why wet wipes are so bad for the environment...
A wet wipe may look like a moist piece of cotton cloth. However, most people aren’t aware they’re actually bound together with plastic resin fibres and take over 100 years to biodegrade. They’re also packaged in plastic that’s generally non-recyclable.
It’s estimated we use 11 billion in the UK every year, with the majority either sent to landfill or flushed down the toilet. Flushed wet wipes are drastically changing the face of our riverbeds and banks, and can even find their way into our oceans where they cause long-term problems for the marine environment.
They’re blocking our sewers, too. According to a 2017 investigation by Water UK, wet wipes are to blame for 90% of blockages in UK sewers. They form into those revolting fatbergs made up of grease and other household waste that finds its way into our sewage system. Yuk.
Does flushable mean environmentally friendly?
Many of us flush wet wipes down the toilet because manufacturers tell us it’s safe to do so. Mistakenly, we believe they break down easily, just like toilet roll, and won’t be harmful to the environment.
However, that simply isn’t the case.
Many wet wipes don’t disintegrate quickly enough and still cause problems in our waterways. Those that do disintegrate may still contain plastic, which will eventually break down into micro-plastics that cause a hazard to wildlife and can even enter our food chain.
Why is biodegradable not the solution?
Some manufacturers have developed biodegradable or compostable wet wipes, made from renewable materials. Whilst these are safer for the environment, as our Facebook friend Laura points out, they still shouldn’t be flushed or sent to landfill.
‘Biodegradable’ wipes should actually be placed on a compost heap, which is an aerobic environment where they’ll be exposed to enough oxygen, water and heat to allow microorganisms to break them down. If they end up in landfill sites, they’ll be buried in a stable, anaerobic environment without oxygen, where things take much longer to decompose. In fact, did you know it’s possible to identify food many years after it’s been dumped? It’s a sobering thought.
What are the alternatives?
Here are some clever ways to reduce your wet wipe usage...
Flannels, not fatbergs
If you use facial wipes to clean your skin, try using a reusable cloth instead. You can purchase special microfibre cloths designed to remove your make-up when soaked in water, or simply use a good old damp cotton flannel and your favourite cream cleanser. We love the hot cloth cleansing method, which feels super luxurious on the skin. We promise that once you try it, you’ll never want to use a facial wipe again!
Spray, don’t throw away
If you use wet wipes for cleaning, why not try using an environmentally-friendly cleaning liquid that you wipe away using a cloth? You can pop them in your weekly load and re-use them every time you ‘Hinch’ your house.
Do it yourself
We understand there are some circumstances where a disposable wipe is a must, like changing a nappy or when caring for someone. If this applies to you, did you know you can make your own using natural ingredients and high-quality paper towels? There’s also specially formulated sprays on the market that can be wiped away with toilet tissue, then safely flushed.