Sewage expert calls for further wet wipe action

13 May 2024 by CSG

A sewage expert has welcomed the Government’s ban on wet wipes containing plastic – but warned that so-called ‘flushable wipes’ still present an environmental danger.

Government legislation – the first globally of-its-kind – banning wet wipes that contain plastic will be introduced this year to help tackle pollution and clean up waterways following overwhelming support during the consultation process.

Discarded wet wipes frequently litter Britain’s beaches and eventually break down into microplastics, which contribute to water pollution and damage ecosystems.

The wet wipes also block sewage works and can find their way into gardens and local watercourses.

James Baxter, Recycling Manager at waste management leaders CSG, said: “Banning wet wipes containing plastics is a massive step forward and we applaud the Government for following the evidence and public opinion.

“Tiny particles break away from these wipes containing toxic chemicals that interfere with human and animal hormones.  Accumulations of these toxins have been found in the tissues of wild animals.

“When flushed down the toilet, the wipes bind together with fat, oil and greases and create a horrible, impenetrable mat which can wreak havoc and cause significant, expensive blockages.

“It’s high-time this multi-million-pound problem was addressed.”

But James warned that even so-called ‘flushable wipes’ that do not contain plastic pose a significant risk to human health and wildlife.

Water UK recently announced it had dropped its “Fine to Flush” branding on hygiene wipes, admitting customers were confused about what should or should not go down the toilet.

“The nature and composition of materials we are seeing in both private sewage systems and at our treatment facilities has changed dramatically,” said James.

“Encouragingly, we are seeing far less nappies and sanitary products, but there is an obvious increase in disposable and so-called flushable wipes.

“Anything that isn’t simply toilet paper is going to have a negative impact. Some of these ‘flushable’ wipes can take 500 years to decompose.”

For people with private sewage works, wipes can also prevent bacteria from doing its job of treating the sewage by restricting oxygen levels, putting nature and people at risk.

James said: “Sewage recycling should be circular, but flushed wipes is making that very difficult.

“We all make sewage, so it’s good to be aware of how much we produce, where it’s going, how it’s being managed and how sustainable we can all make it.  Being mindful over what goes into your system is a really good start.”

James said used wipes should always be thrown in the bin so they can be incinerated with domestic waste.