Wet wipes: What’s all the fuss about?

Did you know that over 11 billion wet wipes are used in the UK every year? They’ve become part of everyday life for most of us – whether you’re using them as part of your baby changing routine, to remove make-up, clean surfaces or simply to sanitise your hands.

Most people don’t realise wet wipes contain large amounts of plastic. They’re made up of fibres – much of which is plastic – glued together and infused with chemicals such as cleaning or disinfecting agents.

Wet wipes are designed to be strong – consumers don’t want them disintegrating in their hands. But as a result, they don’t break down easily once you’re finished with them. So if they get flushed down a toilet, they cause serious problems for our sewage systems.

Speak to your plumber, water company or local rivers trust and you’ll hear the same thing – wet wipes are a nightmare for our sewage systems and, in turn, for our rivers and water ways. Once in our sewage system wet wipes get caught in pipes and trap other waste, causing huge blockages. Wet wipes are a major component of “fatbergs” which are massive clogs made up of plastics, fats and cooking greases, and other kinds of litter. In an emergency, such as when pipes are blocked or when heavy rainfall inundates the system with water, our sewerage system is actually designed to release untreated sewage, including flushed wet wipes, into rivers and seas.

Let’s face it though – with over 11 billion being sold every year – wet wipes are here to stay. So what’s the solution? Well, the number one thing we can all do is make sure wet wipes are put into the bin and not flushed down the toilet.

At Simply Washrooms we’re passionate about our role in minimising the impact of waste on our precious waterways. Every time you use one of our hygiene or nappy bins to dispose of wet wipes, you’re reducing the pollution entering our sewer systems.According to the Rivers Trust, 22% of people surveyed in 2023 admitted to flushing wet wipes down the toilet. That goes some way to explaining why 75% of drain blockages are caused by wet wipes. One reason behind this is that many wet wipes are labelled as “flushable,” which misleads customers to think they can flush these wipes down the toilet without causing harm. In fact, the label only signifies that the wipes are easier to flush if necessary, not that they should be. Along with misleading labelling, customers also flush wipes due to hygiene concerns, practicalities of not having a bin in the bathroom, or simply not being aware of the negative environmental impacts of plastic-based wipes.

Wet wipes do untold damage to delicate river ecosystems and those of us who like to swim, play and paddle in our blue spaces:

  • Wet wipes break down into microplastics, which get eaten by fish and other wildlife causing them physical harm and potentially starvation.
  • Chemicals in wet wipes such as disinfectants and glues contribute to staggering levels of chemical pollution in our rivers.
  • Wet wipes gather on riverbanks and beds creating “wet wipe islands” that change the shape and flow of rivers, affecting water quality, habitats and migration.
  • People using our rivers come into contact with these sewage-related wet wipes, which may carry bacteria and pose a human health risk.

If you’d like to find out more about our range of nappy and hygiene waste units, download our Product Brochure drop us a line at info@simplywashrooms.com