Leading retailers not embracing wet wipe flush standard
Major retailers in the UK are still stocking own-brand wet wipes marked as ‘flushable' which do not meet the official UK water industry standard, according to research by the Marine Conservation Society.
The UK’s leading marine conservation charity says that own-brand ‘flushable’ wet wipes, which can be bought from 10 leading High Street retailers and supermarkets, can’t carry the ‘Fine to Flush’ logo – which denotes an official UK water industry standard identifying which wet wipes are safe to be flushed down the toilet.
These ‘flushable’ wipes are marketed under a range of descriptions – from moist toilet tissue, dispersible wipes, to toddler training wipes – but could be contributing to sewer blockages, so-called ‘fatbergs’ and marine pollution, says the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). The charity says it strongly urges the public not to buy these wipes and to choose alternatives.
The new research is all the more shocking in the light of a YouGov poll conducted on behalf of MCS which revealed 72% of people in Britain said they use wet wipes. Household cleaning wipes were used by 43% of people in Britain, baby and toddler wipes by 36%, facial and skincare wipes by 35%, and moist toilet tissue were used by 24% of Brits.
More than 4 out of 5 British people (83%), questioned in another YouGov survey for MCS said they supported the removal of the claim of ‘flushable’ from all wet wipes if they do not meet water industry standards for what can be safely flushed.
In January, a new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard was introduced by Water UK which represents water companies across the country. To meet the standard, wipes must pass strict tests which prove they break down quickly and easily in the sewer system and do not contain any plastic fibres. If wet wipes pass these tests, they can feature the ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on their packaging. If they don’t, MCS and water companies want to see wipes clearly labelled as ‘Do not flush.’
MCS contacted Aldi, Asda, Boots, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Tesco, Waitrose, Wilko, Iceland, M&S and Co-op Food, all of which sell own brand flushable wipes except for Iceland, M&S and Co-op Food.
“In our retailer survey, Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Tesco and Waitrose – told us that they are either investigating options, have no plans to test their own brand ‘flushable’ wipes against the new guidelines or they haven’t yet decided,” said Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas.
“Asda, Boots, Morrisons and Wilko told us that they have either started to test their wipes against the ‘Fine to Flush’ standard or will have done so by the end of 2019 and will then make changes to their wipes to ensure that they either meet the guidelines, or they will be labelled ‘Do not flush’. However, Morrisons have only committed to test their wipes, not to complying with the standard afterwards.”
Foster added: “We also asked the retailers if they would continue to sell other brands of ‘flushable’ wipes that do not display the ‘Fine to Flush’ logo. All those that stock them told us that they either have no plans to stop stocking these brands of wipes or they haven’t yet decided. This means there is no guarantee that other brands are plastic free or could be flushed safely in the UK.
Since MCS first raised the issue of wet wipes ending up on our beaches as far back as 2016, all the major retailers have removed plastic from their own brand ‘flushable’ wipes where it existed. Many had been unaware that there was plastic in these wipes at all.
Laura Foster pointed out that some wet wipes on sale are increasingly being marketed as ‘flushable’ based on the industry’s own guidelines established by EDANA, the group which represents the vast majority of manufacturers of non-woven wipes across Europe.
She said: “EDANA’s guidelines are insufficient for UK sewers because it doesn’t test the wipes for conditions realistically found in UK sewers, and so those wipes may not break down quickly. This problem is made worse by people flushing wet wipes which were never designed to be flushed, like baby or cosmetic wipes. Sewer blockages can only be dispersed at great cost to the water industry and ultimately, to us, the customer.
“We will now be piling the pressure on retailers because it is totally unacceptable that they are selling something which, even when disposed of as per the instructions, can potentially contribute to blockages which lead to further ocean pollution. So, we urge people not to buy these products and to consider using more environmentally friendly alternatives to single use wet wipes. Any wet wipe without the Fine to Flush logo should be placed in the bin,” said Laura Foster.
Michael Roberts, CEO of Water UK, commented: “There are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages every year, costing the country £100 million. As a result, thousands of properties suffer sewer flooding, creating misery for homeowners and businesses and leading to high clean-up bills and increased insurance costs. The ‘Fine to Flush’ standard is an important step in the battle against blockages, making it easier for consumers to buy an environmentally-friendly product instead of one which clogs up drains and sewers.”
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