'Explosion' of wet wipes found near rivers

Charlotte Lomas, Sky Correspondent

A huge increase in the number of wet wipes being flushed down the toilet is having a major impact on rivers and marine life in the UK.

Conservationists have warned of an "explosion" in the number of non-biodegradable wet wipes which end up on river banks or make their way into our seas and oceans.

Debbie Leach from environmental group Thames 21 is behind a campaign which it is hoped will raise public awareness.

She described the number of wet wipes in rivers as "completely disgusting".

"It's layer upon layer of wet wipes and they will be here for a very long time as the plastic in the wipes takes so long to breakdown."

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She added: "One study showed seven in 10 flounders in the Thames had plastic in their stomachs.

"We are using wipes in our everyday lives more and more and we are seeing so much more of them in the River Thames.

"It is so unnecessary.

"Just don't put them down the loo."

When flushed down the toilet, wet wipes mix with fats and oils and can develop into huge so-called "fatbergs", which can block drains and sewers.

These mounds of wipes can then overflow into rivers, settling on twigs and mud, collecting on the riverbanks where water flows more slowly, even changing the shapes of the riverbeds themselves.

In its third annual survey, Thames 21 and a group of volunteers combed the foreshore near Hammersmith in London, where the biggest concentration of wet wipes has been found - more than 235 per square metre.

AJ McConville, who organised the count, said its purpose was to collect real data to highlight the scale of the problem.

He said: "We have been coming down to the river over the last 20 years and in that time things like shopping trolleys and bags have decreased but new issues have emerged, including wipes.

"We want to see this disappear and stop the river getting dirty in the first place.

"Wet wipes are made of lots of different fabrics but often it can be polyester, which is reinforced by plastic.

"The issue there is that once it gets into the environment it will break down into lots of tiny plastics which fish will eat and then those plastics will get into the food chain."