*Embargoed until 00.01 on Tuesday 2nd November*
Fleur Anderson MP fighting to ban plastic in the 11 billion wet wipes used in the UK every year.
Fleur Anderson MP’s Bill to prohibit the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastic will have its first reading on Tuesday 2nd November and has support from fellow MPs and organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society, Thames 21, Thames Water, the Green Alliance and the WWF.
Fleur Anderson, MP for Putney, said:
“As a mother of four children, I completely understand the pressures that parents are under and the difficulties that can bring when trying to cut down on plastic and make the right choices for the environment.
“I know that parents want to do the right things and all I am saying is that we can make it easier on them and on everyone who relies on the use of wet wipes every day.
“Everyone should bin and not flush wet wipes, but either way they contain plastic which gets in the environment and kills wildlife. My Bill comes in the same week as world leaders are meeting for COP26 and will show that the UK can take serious action and ban plastic from wet wipes made and sold in the UK.”
The disposal of single-use, non-degradable wet wipes is a growing problem and is a leading cause of harm for our water systems and our marine environments. 90% of the astonishing 11 billion wet wipes that are used in the UK every year contain some form of plastic. That is 163 wet wipes for every person in the UK every year. The plastic in wet wipes breaks down into microplastics, which can be ingested by marine and riverine animals, and are entering into our food chain and water supply. The environmental damage caused by plastic waste is causing an ecological disaster with 100 million marine animals dying each year from plastic waste alone.
Wet wipes are also behind 93% of blockages in UK sewers and are even changing the shape of our rivers as they pile up on beds and banks. The Thames Water area alone has on average 85,000 blockages a year due to fat and wet wipes. In 2018, Thames21 retrieved over 5000 wet wipes from the Thames bed during an operation on a 116m stretch of the river.
Not only is it possible to manufacture wet wipes without plastic, non-plastic alternatives are on the market already. There are bamboo fibre wipes, plant-based wipes, organic cotton wipes and washable re-usable cloths. Holland and Barratt recently became the first shop on the high street to introduce a complete ban on the sale of all wet wipe products and plan to replace them with environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives.
In January 2019, the UK water industry published their ‘Fine to Flush’ specification in response to an increasing number of products being labelled as flushable, but which could still potentially cause blockages in the sewer system. However, a recent 2021 update to a survey conducted by the Marine Conservation Society in November 2020, found that only two out of ten main UK retailers has ensured that all of their own brand flushable wet wipes meet the ‘Fine to Flush’ specification. Of the other eight retailers, only four have committed to doing so by the end of 2021
Fleur Anderson continues:
“There are so many different types of wet wipes for sale but the labelling is really confusing. It really isn’t easy to determine which wet wipes contain plastic and which are ‘fine to flush’. There will be thousands of people out there right now using wet wipes every day with no idea that they are using a single-use plastic and with no idea of the harm that it is doing to our water systems and our marine environments.
“Flushing the odd wet wipe may not seem like a big deal but I don’t think people realise the scale of the problem. Just one sewage station in East London removes 30 tonnes of wet wipes every day. In 2019, 23,000 wet wipes were counted and removed from a single stretch of the Thames foreshore in just two hours. That is even more terrifying when you consider that our reliance on wet wipes is growing day by day.
“It isn’t just causing environmental damage and polluting our marine environments, it is also costing water companies around £100 million per year to clear 300,000 blockages. That is money that then ends up on our water bills each month.
“It has been years since DEFRA announced it would target plastic-containing wet wipes in its bid to eliminate all avoidable single use plastic within 25 years. Well, it’s COP26 this week and the Environment Bill is going through Parliament. This is the perfect opportunity to make good on that promise. Let’s ban plastic in wet wipes once and for all.”
A spokesperson for the Marine Conservation Society said:
“The UK Government needs to ban plastic from wet wipes to further reduce our reliance on single use plastic and to prevent wet wipes from adding to the plastic soup in our seas”
Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames 21, said:
“Wet wipes made with plastic are contaminating our rivers and clogging our drains. They are building up in heaps on the River Thames foreshore, and the plastic in them could be devastating to wildlife in the river. We should never, ever flush a wet wipe – and our message to decision makers is that all wet wipes that contain plastic should be banned.”
A spokesperson for the WWF said:
“Banning all avoidable single use plastic by 2025 would force companies to develop new products that don’t fill our oceans with waste that never disappears. We can become the generation that changes our flushaway culture and begins to restore nature instead of destroying it, but we need government policy to lead the way.”
Notes to editors
For interviews with Fleur Anderson please call Mike Wain on 07947343662 or email email@example.com
Fleur will be visiting the East London sewage station to see the result of flushing wet wipes and will be going to see the island of wet wipes floating in the Thames. Pictures will be available and filming is welcomed.
– Cross-party Parliamentary supporters of the Bill so far include: Sir Philip Dunne MP, Diane Abbott MP, Tim Farron MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Jim Shannon MP, Barry Gardiner MP, Ian Byrne MP, Lisa Cameron MP and James Gray MP.
– Globally, the wet wipes market is worth US$ 3.7 Billion and is growing rapidly. It is projected to be worth US$ 8.0 Billion by the end of 2031(Source: Future Market Insights).
– Further analysis of the identifiable ‘domestic’ flushed products found in blockages that 78% of the amount recovered were baby wipes, 9% surface wipes, 4% cosmetic and 2% ‘flushable’ wipes.
– During the Great British Beach Clean in 2020, 18 wet wipes were found on average per 100m of beaches in the UK. This was a considerable increase from 2005 (when they were first recorded as their own category) where the average number of wet wipes found was 1.7 per 100m.
– While most civil society organisations support the ‘fine to flush’ standard, there is widespread concern that many products are claiming to be flushable but do not properly meet the standard.
– Not all wipes which claim to be ‘flushable’, or similar, have passed this standard as it is voluntary standard. This standard should be mandatory and any wipes which do not meet ‘Fine to flush’ should be clearly labelled ‘Do not flush’ on the front of the packet.
– During the Environment Bill report stage in the Lords, Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith maintained that DEFRA was working on the issue of wet wipes, but cannot give a timeline or specific plans yet.