They're really useful when you've got sticky, messy fingers and faces to get clean and some of us use them to clean other areas as well particularly when changing nappies! But wet wipes are responsible for 93% of blockages in sewers, helping to create huge 'fatbergs' that stop the waste water (and other things) from flowing freely.
An analysis of these monster sewer-stoppers by Water UK, the membership body for water providers, found that the 'fatbergs' were in reality more like 'wipebergs', with baby wipes, make-up removal wipes and surface cleaning wipes making up the vast majority of the mass plugging the pipes. The 'bergs only actually contained about 0.5% fat and oil. The remaining materials in the blockages were things like cotton pads, plastic wrappers and feminine hygeine products. One thing that certainly wasn't blocking the drains was good old traditional toilet paper, which counted for only 0.01% of all material in blockages.
And did you know that wet wipes normally contain plastic fibres too? So they not only block our drains, but they don't rot away naturally either, because the plastics they contain are not biodegradable.
The government's plan to eradicate single use plastics includes wet wipes. The Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) is working with manufacturers to ensure that in future, consumers' attention is drawn to the fact that their wet wipes contain plastic and that there are directions for disposing of them properly. That means throwing them in the bin, not flushing them down the loo! Additionally, maunfacturers are investigtating the use of biodegradable alternatives to plastic for their wet wipes.
The government has set its sights on eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042. That's still a long way off and we could almost certainly act sooner on this. However, plastic is such a big part of how we live our lives that the changes we will need to make to eliminate all single use plastics are many. That said, there are already lots of simple solutions to our plastic addiction out there for us to make use of. Examples including re-usable cups, shopping bags, drinking straws are already easily available and can make a real impact on our daily use of plastics. And with luck (and some hard work from the manufacturers) it won't be long until wet wipes no longer contain plastics and are properly biodegradable too.