Government steps up drive to banish single-use plastic in wet wipes

Government steps up drive to banish single-use plastic in wet wipes

The war on the wet wipe: Government steps up drive to banish single-use plastic that’s blighting Britain’s rivers and seas

  • 90% of the 11 billion wet wipes used each year in the UK contain plastic
  • This creates fatbergs, clogging sewers, polluting rivers and harming wildlife 

Wet wipes containing toxic plastic could be banned under Government plans to clean up rivers and seas.

Stricter labelling could also be brought in to urge consumers not to flush the single-use items down the toilet – even if they do not contain plastic.

Ministers are expected to announce the crackdown in the coming days, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Plastic-free wet wipes would be unaffected by any ban, and many manufacturers have already started to switch to more sustainable alternatives. However, the most recent figures show 90 per cent of the 11 billion wet wipes used in the UK each year contain plastic, says the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

96% of survey respondents said they would support a ban on wet wipes containing plastic

When flushed, all wet wipes help to create fatbergs – a mass of wipes, paper, cooking fat and sewage that clogs up sewers, pollutes rivers and harms wildlife.

Despite some being labelled as ‘fine to flush’, there are also concerns about how long wet wipes take to break down.

READ MORE: Dirty wet wipes that wash up on British beaches are still teaming with harmful faecal bacteria that can pose a risk to human health, study warns 



Two years ago, Ministers called for evidence as to whether plastic wet wipes should face a total ban.

When the findings were published earlier this year, 96 per cent of respondents to an official survey said they would support a ban on wet wipes containing plastic, though only 50 per cent of manufacturers agreed.

The Government response said: ‘Given public appetite for implementing a ban on wet wipes containing plastic, we note this to be a course of action that will be carefully considered.’

Any ban or stricter labelling will be subject to consultation.

Wet wipes are believed to be responsible for 93 per cent of the blockages in sewers, costing £100 million a year to clear. Companies have been accused by MPs of wrongly labelling their products as flushable. The MCS has called for wet wipes to carry a ‘fine to flush’ label only if manufacturers can prove they break down fully.

Allison Ogden-Newton, of Keep Britain Tidy, said: ‘Wet wipes are the devil’s work. They are largely single-use plastics that, once in the sewerage system, via our loos, cause no end of environmental damage.

‘They block our Victorian plumbing leading to increased use of overflow pipes and even more raw sewage entering our rivers and seas.

‘Manufacturing claims that they are ‘flushable’, or ‘biodegradable’ are untested.

‘What we do know is they are so damaging they’ve formed monumental mounds in our waterways, changing the course of rivers like the Thames. Then, the best we can hope for is they disintegrate into micro plastics, further damaging the natural world and even entering our food chain.

‘We need legislation to make it clear that they must never be put down the loo.’

In 2021, Labour MP Fleur Anderson introduced a Private Member’s Bill calling for a ban on plastic wet wipes. She said: ‘The damage is devastating. Globally, 100 million animals die each year from plastic waste.’

Major retailers including Boots and Tesco have already banned wet wipes containing plastic.

The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this year that single-use plastic plates, cups and cutlery will be banned by the end of December.

Our sister paper, the Daily Mail, has led the way on banning single-use items through its award-winning Turn The Tide On Plastic and Banish The Bags campaigns.

In another move, water companies could face unlimited fines for pollution. Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is expected to announce plans that Ministers say will ‘make polluters pay’.

The latest Environment Agency figures showed there were 301,091 sewage spills in 2022 – an average of 824 a day.

Only 50 per cent of manufacturers said that they would support a ban on plastics in wet wipes

AGGIE MACKENZIE: Our everyday wet wipe habit is building up plastic in our oceans and landfill sites and has to stop

 A few years ago, Irish actress and comedian Sharon Horgan wrote on Twitter that she’d cleaned her entire bathroom with two baby wipes.

How brilliant that was, she’d said. And she was right.

We’re all strapped for time, and there is something really satisfying about reaching for a packet of wipes and getting a job done fast, from cleaning around a sink to wiping a child’s sticky fingers.

But wipes have become almost too convenient. You can get them for anything. There are wipes specifically designed for polishing furniture, for cleaning car upholstery, for wiping down windows or floors. The beauty industry is now full of them. I’m as guilty as anyone for using make-up-remover wipes every day.

All of these things used to be more expensive and were considered a luxury item, but as they’ve come down in price we’ve slid into seeing them as an everyday purchase.

They’re so ubiquitous on supermarket shelves that buying them seems completely normal.

Like anything that’s easy, though, it’s become a bad habit. It’s no bad thing that the Government is stepping in to stop us.

The more we use them – and unthinkingly throw or flush them away – the bigger the fatbergs in our sewage systems or the plastic piles that build up in our oceans or landfill sites. In 20 years, I think we’ll look back with horror at how much we used them. We need to wake up, realise it isn’t good, and change so our children and grandchildren have a better future.

I’ve never used wipes for cleaning, and it isn’t a great hardship to simply get out a cloth and the right cleaning product to tackle a household job.

Not having wet wipes won’t be the worst thing in the world – we’re just dependent on them. And the quicker we ease off that addiction, the better.

The Miracle of Vinegar, by Aggie MacKenzie and Emma Marsden, is out now in paperback and priced £8.99. 

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