When reading about ocean plastics, the focus tends to be on microbeads, plastic bags, plastic cups or plastic six-pack rings. In reality, there is lots of rubbish that ends up in our oceans that contains plastic, and wet wipes are one of the main culprits.
Wet wipes can also be found floating below the ocean surface and are mistaken for jellyfish by sea turtles and other marine life, and ingested whole.
The popularity of wet wipes continues to grow globally as companies find more and more ‘uses’ for them, currently you can get wipes for:
• Babies’ bottoms
• Fake tan
• Toilet wipes
• Make-up removal
• Facial cleansing
Marketed to consumers as convenient and easily disposable, wet wipes are fast becoming a staple in most people’s homes, but the dangers of flushing the wet wipes away aren’t being stressed nearly enough.
The UK seems to be leading the charge on highlighting the damage they are doing to sewer systems, in addition to the environmental impact of flushing wet wipes. In 2014, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) discovered that wet wipes found on beaches had increased by 50%. Following further research in 2016, the MCS announced an alarming 400% increase in wet wipes found along our coast line over the past decade. Most concerning, is that if you piled up all of the unflushable items found in sewers, they could reach as high as Mount Everest.
A contributing factor to wet wipes washing up on our beaches is that companies are marking some as ‘flushable’ when in reality, most are not. From a practical point of view, our sewer systems are too old to cope with the volume of wet wipes being flushed away but significantly, wet wipes aren’t biodegradable. They typically contain tiny pieces of plastic, so if they fragment they release microscopic particles of plastic into our seas, which like microbeads, are harmful when ingested by marine life.
There are many alternatives to wet wipes, flannels are a suitable replacement for washing faces and bottoms – cheaper too. We’ve survived years without the need for toilet wipes, so I don’t understand the real need to introduce these into our lives now!
Finally, the MCS has issued a handy guide, toilets are designed for the 3 P’s:
3. Paper (toilet only!)
Let’s wipe out the need for wet wipes in our lives!