It’s not just plastic bottles and plastic bags clogging waterways — wet wipes are a pervasive problem, and the United Kingdom government is planning to banish them in a plastic wastecrackdown. A Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesperson told The Independent, “As part of our 25-year environment plan, we have pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, and that includes single-use products like wet wipes.”
Many wet wipes, which contain plastic, are still flushed down toilets — and according to the BBC, are behind around 93 percent of sewer blockages in the UK. The Defra spokesperson didn’t say whether or not it would be illegal to sell or buy wet wipes. She did say, “We are continuing to work with manufacturers and retailers of wet wipes to make sure labeling on packaging is clear and people know how to dispose of them properly — and we support the industry’s efforts to make their customers aware of this important issue.”
The BBC said manufacturers will either have to design wipes free of plastic, or people will have to live without them. They quoted Defra as saying it is “encouraging innovation so that more and more of these products can be recycled and are working with industry to support the development of alternatives, such as a wet wipe product that does not contain plastic and can therefore be flushed.”
Besides congesting rivers, wet wipes are also part of so-called fatbergs, or congealed mounds of trash and fat in sewers — and the BBC said fatbergs are mainly comprised of wet wipes. The Independent said there are thought to be at least 12 fatbergs beneath London.
Earlier this month, a UK environmental organization revealed over 5,000 wet wipes in a space as big as half of a tennis court near the River Thames. Tens of thousands of the wipes are sold every year in Britain.