Wet wipes creating ‘plastic islands’ across UK after being flushed

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MP Fleur Anderson is campaigning to ban wet wipes containing plastic.   (parliament.co.uk)
MP Fleur Anderson is campaigning to ban wet wipes containing plastic. (parliament.co.uk)

Wet wipes which contain plastic are creating “islands” across the UK after being flushed, with rivers changing shape after they pile up, MPs have heard.

Labour MP Fleur Anderson’s plastics (wet wipes) bill would prohibit the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastic if it was to pass through parliament and receive royal assent.

During the first reading of the bill on Tuesday, MPs were told the UK needs to ban wet wipes which contain plastic because the scale of the problem caused by flushing them “is so big, so damaging and increasing so fast”.

They also heard that marine life id dying beause of the plastic pollution from the wipes.

Anderson said: “As a mother of four children I have used a lot of wet wipes and I completely understand the pressures that parents are under and how useful wet wipes are.

“I know that parents also want to do the right thing for the environment.”

But she added that 90% of the 11bn wet wipes used in the UK each year contain some form of plastic which, when broken down, turn into microplastics which can enter the food chain and water supply.

She added that the problem was growing, with the Great British Beach Clean reportedly seeing an increase from 1.7 wet wipes per average 100m of beach to 18 wet wipes between 2005 and 2020.

The MP told the Commons: “When these plastics enter our local marine environment and water systems in such large volumes the damage is absolutely devastating. Globally, 100m animals die each year from plastic waste alone.”

The MP told of a recent visit to the Thames where huge piles of wet wipes on the riverbanks had changed how it flowed, and even described seeing a “wet wipe island” in the river.

Brands such as Holland & Barrett and the Body Shop had already committed to selling only plastic-free wipes, which are usually made with bamboo or other plant fibres, Anderson said.

She said a “greater scale of production” of plastic-free wipes could be encouraged by the ban, making the alternative cheaper.

“We need legislation because the scale of the problem is so big, so damaging and increasing so fast,” said Anderson.

The bill will be considered again on Friday 19 November.

A No 10 spokesperson said the 25-year environment plan sets out “a commitment to eliminate avoidable plastic waste”

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