You might have heard that single-use plastic was on the way out in England. With items such as plastic plates, trays and cutlery to soon be banned from use across the country. Now it appears plastic wet wipes will follow suit as well.
Speaking to the BBC, environment minister Therese Coffey said: “Our proposal is to ban plastic from wet wipes,” but first a short consultation will take place.”It’s a legal requirement to make sure that we can go ahead with any ban.”
The ban on wet wipes aims to tackle water pollution in England and could come into force by next year. Wipes that contain plastic do not break down when flushed, due to their strong fibres, and regularly cause sewage to stop moving through pipes.
These plastic wet wipes account for 75% of drain blockages, including infamous fatbergs, and cost the country £100 million a year, according to Water UK.
Wet wipes are a major cause of pollution in seas and rivers too. Plastic fibres become trapped inside animals, leading to starvation and death. So the ban is as much about cleaning up our rivers and seas, as it is about our pipes. Currently, no river in England is considered clean.
The incoming wet wipe ban is part of a government initiative to improve England’s water quality, called Plan for Water. It will also include investment from water companies into our rivers, tougher fines for anyone caught polluting and a potential ban on PFAS chemicals used in intensive farming. According to a report from 2022, pollution from chicken farms is the most common way rivers are being contaminated.
Charles Watson, CEO of River Action UK, does not think the government is going far enough. He said: “How can Defra credibly announce “stronger regulation and tougher enforcement” when there is not one single commitment today by government to put its money where its mouth is and properly re-fund statutory environmental protection agencies?”
In 2021, a government consultation found 96% of people supported banning plastic wet wipes. There is no set date for the ban on plastic wet wipes. Some companies such as Boots and Tesco have already stopped their sale in shops, however.