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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today launched a major new petition, supported by a range of charities and water companies, urging governments across the UK to introduce a ban on the sale of non-flushable wet wipes which contain plastic.

Non-flushable wet wipes are causing significant pollution to our marine environment. Despite this, they currently have been omitted from the Government’s “war on plastic“, which only plans to ban single-use plastic cutlery, plates, and polystyrene cups in England.

In the UK, an estimated 11 billion wet wipes are used per year, and 90% of them contain plastic. The disposal of these non-flushable wet wipes causes fatbergs, solidified waste matter in the sewer system formed by the combination and accumulation of non-flushable wet wipes, oil, fat, grease, and other waste solids. It is estimated that non-flushable wet wipes make up over 90% of fatberg material.

Wet wipes are ingested by aquatic life, causing suffocation, starvation and death. Water companies are paying an estimated £100 million per year to clear 300,000 blockages, and passing the costs of this onto consumers. 

In Bright Blue’s recent report, Nature positive? Public attitudes towards the natural environment, we found an overwhelming majority (71%) of the UK public agreed that non-flushable wet wipes should be banned.

There are flushable alternatives which do not contain plastic. These are made from natural materials such as organic cotton, viscose rayon, wood pulp, and bamboo, which break down into non-toxic components.

Currently, there is a small price differential between flushable and non-flushable wet wipes, but this would likely reduce as the production and sale of flushable wet wipes increased.

The petition is supported by PoliticsHome, Sea Shepherd UK, the Canal and River Trust, Water UK, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Wessex Water, and Severn Trent Water.

Rebecca Foster, Researcher at Bright Blue, commented:

“Non-flushable wet wipes have a detrimental effect on our waterways and marine ecosystems, contributing to fatberg build up and leading to aquatic life ingesting microplastics. Consumers are picking up the tab for clearing blockages caused by non-flushable wet wipes being improperly discarded. There is a strong environmental and economic case for banning non-flushable wet wipes containing plastic, and so we urge the Environment Secretary George Eustice MP to act.”

Richard Parry, Chief Executive of the Canal & River Trust, commented: 

“Each year an estimated 14 million pieces of plastic rubbish end up in and around our canals and rivers, with around 500,000 pieces flowing out into the oceans. Thousands of people are helping us on their local towpath, clearing litter and plastic to make a positive contribution in their local community.  Banning wet wipes containing plastic is another simple action society can take to stop local litter becoming a global problem.”

Stuart Colville, Director of Policy at Water UK, commented:

“We wholly support this petition and the spotlight it shines on an issue central to improving the health of our rivers and cutting storm overflow spills. Legislative action is needed to ensure manufacturers of wet wipes design plastics out of their products, so the negative environmental impacts of wet wipes are prevented at source.”

Sarah Bentley, Chief Executive of Thames Water, commented:

“I’m fully supportive of the need to ban plastic wet wipes. They’re causing major harm to our environment and waterways.

“As well as polluting our waterways, wet wipes cause huge problems in our sewers too. They cause blockages, which can lead to sewer flooding, and we spend millions of pounds a year clearing them.”

Peter Simpson, Chief Executive of Anglian Water, commented: 

“We implore the Government to take further action on this. This is exactly the type of legislation we urgently need to reduce storm overflows and flooding, to protect our rivers and local environment from pollution. We clear one blockage every 5 minutes, costing millions of pounds every year. 80% of which could be avoided by not putting unflushables down the loo.”

 

If you would be interested in signing the petition, you can do that here.