Wet wipes: the dark side

Monday 24-04-2017 - 10:47

This guest post by the Marine Conservation Society looks at the serious (and absolutely gross) environmental implications of flushing even 'flushable' things down the loo. 

wet wipe on beach

Students - grab your wellies, you’re going to need them for this bog – sorry blog! 

Guilty as charged. We’ve all done it; we’re all guilty of putting things down the toilet that just shouldn’t go there. 

And the worst of the worst? The seemingly oh-so-innocent wet wipe: the faithful friend of a post-night out face; the lazy shower alternative. But wet wipes are pretty nasty things when not properly disposed of. Despite misleading labelling on products, they are not meant to go down the toilet and enter the sewage system. 

It costs £66 to £200 for a plumber to unblock clogged drains, and it costs UK water companies around £80 million to remove blockages from our sewers annually.  Up to 80% of these blockages are caused by products which are not meant for our sewage systems – such as wet wipes. Wet wipes meet up with fats and create massive fatbergs. Fatbergs! 

It is a costly business removing fatbergs but there’s more to this tale yet. When we have excess rainfall, which floods the pipes, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are used to release the blockages. The blockage has now gone but along with it so has the raw, untreated sewage which now flows into our rivers, estuaries and the sea. Fancy a dip in a sewer on a sunny day? Me neither. 

Overflows are screened, but many solids escape detection and end up in the environment. The Marine Conservation Society found and removed 3,955 wet wipes from our beaches in a single weekend in September last year– that’s an average of 47 wipes for every km of our coastline Marine Conservation Society volunteers cleaned.  

Industry labels these products as 'flushable' and 'biodegradable' – yet many wet wipes contain plastic and don’t breakdown. They break up and become smaller particles – but they do not disappear - they just become part of our ever-growing microplastic problem.  

What impact does microplastic have on marine life? Well, here is the proof that zooplankton mistake microplastic for food, and these little guys form the base of the food chain – they, in turn, are eaten by the fish that we eat.  

Wet wipes – either whole or in pieces – also end up as rubbish on our beaches, which can then be mistaken for food by all sorts of precious marine life. 

Let’s stop the contamination of our marine systems. Sign our petition for clearer labelling on wet wipe products!   

And, please – only pee, poo and paper down the loo! 

Spread the word – not the pollution. 

Related Tags :

pollution, marine conservation, Guest Blog,

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