“He shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and be clean.” – Leviticus 14: 9
Millions of us have grabbed a wet wipe to clean our hands, faces, worktops, children, and almost everything else at some point. What harm can it do, we might think – they’re only little squares of wet tissue. Aren’t they?
But now people are realising that wet wipes, like so many other everyday throwaway items, contain plastic, and aren’t so harmless after all. Wet wipes are often advertised as “flushable”, implying they’re somewhat environmentally friendly. However, they’re actually causing a wide number of problems.
Wet wipes are often partly made of polyester, a form of plastic that doesn’t deteriorate like, for example, a tissue might do. This is woven together with cotton, but as a whole means wipes remain together in waterways for a long time. Some wet wipes have been re-engineered by the industry to be made of wood pulp, the material that toilet paper is made from. However, they’re also chemically treated to ensure they last far longer – and while hygiene firms claim they break down, water companies and scientists disagree, saying they are still very slow to degrade. When they eventually do break down, the small remaining pieces of plastic add to the global micro-plastics problem, as marine life consume them.
Once they are flushed down a toilet, wet wipes can cause blockages in sewers, particularly when they gather in large numbers. Wet wipes made up 93 per cent of the material that forms blockages according to a UK study
Wet wipes combine with cooking oil and other fats to create massive lumps (called fatbergs) that have to be manually removed and dismantled. The wipes also have the potential to clog up drains in houses, leading to homes being flooded with sewage.
Riverbeds are remade by wet wipes Some wet wipes are ejected from sewers and enter rivers and canals, where they cause further problems. They tend to drift to the bottom of rivers and get clogged with mud, sticks and other debris, and look like a natural part of the riverbed.
Ditch the wipes
When it comes to cleaning, avoid multi-purpose cleaning wipes for your home surfaces and opt for liquid cleaning products and a reusable cloth. No disposable wipes necessary, just a re-usable J-cloth. And why not go re-usable for baby care instead? Use washable cloth baby wipes, keeping the comfort of a wipe but ditching the wasteful result.
“To be better to our environment, where possible, why not go back to a good old-fashioned flannel or re-usable baby cloth?”