Wet wipes to receive 'fine to flush' kitemark

Katie Morley
The wipes must first pass strict scientific tests, designed by the water industry, to prove they will not clog up sewers to create

Wet wipes are to be given a "fine to flush" kitemark in a bid to stop households polluting the environment by putting the wrong ones down the lavatory.  

In a move which is designed to remove confusion among consumers as to what can and can't be flushed, manufacturers of wipes which are safe will be able to feature an official water industry symbol on their packaging. 

The wipes must first pass strict scientific tests, designed by the water industry, to prove they will not clog up sewers to create "fatbergs" and sewage blockages, or contribute to plastic pollution.

Wipes which contain plastic which does not break down are not safe to flush and must instead be disposed of in the bin. 

It comes after fatbergs – which are mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass – have been increasing in frequency in recent years. 

These include a 250-metre long fatberg in Whitechapel in London in 2017 which weighed as much as nineteen elephants, and a 64-metre fatberg which was discovered blocking a sewer this week in Sidmouth, Devon.

The Whitechapel Sewer Fatberg Credit: Thames Water

In 2017 the biggest ever in-depth investigation of sewer blockages in the UK proved that wipes being flushed down toilets caused serious problems in the sewerage system.

The project found that non-flushable wet wipes could make up around 93 per cent of the material causing some sewer blockages. These wipes – which included a high proportion of baby wipes – are not designed to be flushed.

Meanwhile Water UK, which represents the water industry, found on average of 12 wet wipes per 100m of beach cleaned and surveyed, an increase of over 300 per cent over the past decade.    

Michael Roberts, chief executive at Water UK, said: “This is an important step in the battle against blockages. We’ve all seen the impact of fatbergs recently, and we want to see fewer of them."

Dr. Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society said: "There is huge confusion for consumers on which products can be flushed, resulting in millions being spent on blockages every year.  

Unfortunately some products on the market labelled as flushable have been known to contain plastic fibres adding to plastic pollution in our oceans. 

In addition, by not being designed for realistic conditions found in UK sewers, they may not break down fast enough and therefore potentially contribute to blockages.