UK seeks suitable alternatives to wet wipes due to sewer blockages

Published by Leigh McGowran on

May 18th, 2018

The UK Government has announced that it aims to find suitable alternatives to wet wipes that can be disposed of easier by consumers despite media reports that it planned to ban them outright.

A recent report by Water UK found that 93 per cent of material causing sewer blockages came from wet wipes, costing £100 million each year and impacting the environment.

“This study proves that flushing wipes down the toilet is a major cause of sewer blockages, and that means it’s a problem we can all do something about,” Water UK’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Rae Stewart, said.

Speaking to The Journal earlier this week, an Irish Water spokesperson said that the flushing of wet wipes is “unfortunately commonplace” and “can cause severe problems for the wastewater network”.

Mindy O’Brien of VOICE Ireland told The Green News that there needs to be more education on this issue. “No sanitary products should be flushed. They are a single-use item, I’d say they’re unnecessary.”

Ms O’Brien said there are alternative reusable options for wiping your hands or cleaning surfaces, but for purposes like cleaning nappies “companies should definitely work to make an alternative option”.

The most common sanitary items flushed down toilets are wet wipes and cotton buds, according to Elaine Doyle, a campaign officer of the Clean Coasts Programme.

Ms Doyle explained to The Green News that these items can block toilets and sewers, but can also get through wastewater centres and end up on beaches. She said that people should put everything apart from toilet paper in the bin.

Clean coasts’ Think Before You Flush initiative is a public awareness campaign showing the problems sanitary products can cause when flushed.

A recent poll of 1,033 people found that 30 per cent of Irish adults have flushed items down the toilet.

Lack of knowledge seems to be the primary reason as 50 per cent think these items disintegrate after flushing.

At the Green-Schools Expo, Mrs Doyle said they performed an experiment where they put tissue paper in a jar of water and a wet wipe in another. “Over three days the wet wipes didn’t change at all”.

She also said that flushable wet wipes only “broke a bit more but not really” during tests. “They still contain small amounts of plastic to hold them together.”

Ms Doyle said companies are starting to take notice, and are putting clear labels on the front of their packaging warning people not to flush their products.

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Leigh McGowran

Leigh is a final year Journalism student at DCU with interests in the environment, radio presenting and film reviews.