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Government Faces Pressure To Ban Fatberg-Causing Plastic Wet Wipes

Government Faces Pressure To Ban Fatberg-Causing Plastic Wet Wipes
4 min read

PoliticsHome is backing a campaign by leading think tank Bright Blue calling for plastics in wet wipes to be banned due the impact they have on waterways and wildlife.

The petition highlights that plastic-containing wet wipes were omitted from the government’s “war on plastic” announced in August, after a call for evidence on the future of single-use plates, cutlery and polystyrene cups was launched. 

According to Water UK, water companies are footing the bill of around £100 million per year to clear 300,000 blockages — also known as fatbergs — caused by an accumulation of non-flushable wet wipes, oil, fat, grease and other waste solids.

A recent report by Bright Blue also found that the majority of Brits (71%) agreed that non-flushable wet wipes should be banned, which would force manufacturers to make biodegradable wipes without plastics. 

"Non-flushable wet wipes have a detrimental effect on our waterways and marine ecosystems, contributing to fatberg build up and leading to aquatic life ingesting microplastics,” a Bright Blue spokesperson said. 

“Additionally, water companies and consumers are picking up the tab for clearing blockages caused by non-flushable wet wipes being improperly discarded. 

“We urge those in government, including Defra Secretary George Eustice MP, to consider the strong environmental and economic case for banning non-flushable wet wipes containing plastic."

Sign Bright Blue's petition to support the ban of plastic in wet wipes here

The petition has also recieved support from Sea Shepherd UK, the Canal and River Trust, Water UK, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Wessex Water, and Severn Trent Water.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, said: “Each year an estimated 14 million pieces of plastic rubbish end up in and around our canals and rivers, with around 500,000 pieces flowing out into the oceans.

"Thousands of people are helping us on their local towpath, clearing litter and plastic to make a positive contribution in their local community. Banning wet wipes containing plastic is another simple action society can take to stop local litter becoming a global problem.”

Stuart Colville, director of policy at Water UK said banning plastic wet wipes was "central to improving the health of our rivers and cutting storm overflow spills".

"Legislative action is needed to ensure manufacturers of wet wipes design plastics out of their products, so the negative environmental impacts of wet wipes are prevented at source," he added.

The government recently expanded an existing consultation into the future of commonly littered plastics such as tobacco filters and sachets to include plastic wet wipes following pressure from MPs. 

The move came in response to a Private Member’s Bill by Labour MP Fleur Anderson, which has not been formally backed by the government, calling for the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastic to be banned.

“The UK uses a staggering 11 billion wet wipes per year and 90% of those contain plastic. This is causing untold damage to our water systems and marine environments,” Anderson said.

“As a mother of four children, I completely understand the pressures that parents are under and the difficulties that can bring when trying to cut down on plastic and make the right choices for the environment.

“I know that parents want to do the right things and all I am saying is that we can make it easier on them and on everyone who relies on the use of wet wipes every day.

“Everyone should bin and not flush wet wipes, but either way they contain plastic which gets in the environment and kills wildlife.”

The Bill has received backing from a cross-party group of MPs including Labour’s Barry Gardiner, Lib Dem MP Tim Farron, Conservative MP James Gray and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. 

It has also received the support of organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society, Thames 21, the Green Alliance, Water UK, Thames Water and the WWF.

“These plastics, which are completely unnecessary, blight our rivers and endanger our wildlife,” Tim Farron told PoliticsHome. 

“Sustainable alternatives already exist, so it’s time for the Government to hear our calls and to back the Bill too”.

Sign Bright Blue's petition to support the ban of plastic in wet wipes here

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