Banning plastic in wet wipes is urgently needed to stop damage to wildlife and the environment
We use a staggering 11 billion wet wipes every year in the UK and 90 per cent of them contain plastic. That plastic is causing untold damage to our water systems and our marine environments, and it is long past time something is done about it.
There are 300,000 blockages every year in our sewers, which cost water companies £100 million to clear, and around 100 million marine animals die each year globally due to plastic pollution alone.
My ban plastic in wet wipes 10-Minute Rule Bill, will have its first reading today and it couldn't be more of a hot topic. The demand for hygienic wipes has increased dramatically because of the pandemic. The future of our fight against climate change is being decided at COP26. And just last week, Conservative MPs voted against an amendment to stop private water companies dumping raw sewage into our rivers and on our coastlines.
I recently visited Beckton Sewage Treatment Works to see the 30 tonnes of unflushable materials they have to remove every day, most of which are wet wipes. I've also been out at low tide to see thousands of wet wipes washed up on the Thames foreshore. Flushing the odd wet wipe may not seem like a big deal, but I don't think people realise the scale of the problem. Wet wipes are increasingly a leading cause of plastic pollution in the environment, and it is essential that they always go in the bin and not down the toilet.
Banning plastic in wet wipes is a win for consumers as well as the environment
This isn't about laying the blame at the feet of consumers. As a mother of four children, I completely understand the pressures that parents are under and how useful wet wipes are. I also know that parents want to do the right thing for the environment. Rather than trying to work out the confusing packaging and ingredients list, banning plastic in wet wipes is a win for consumers as well as the environment.
On some issues, we can wait for the industry to move ahead with encouragement and consumer pressure. On others, the industry isn't moving fast enough. A ban is needed to stop the damage to wildlife and the environment urgently.
I have spoken to some companies who produce plastic-free, biodegradable wet wipes in the UK, so we know that it's possible and that expanding production could be a source of green jobs.
The Industry Association has told me about the encouraging progress they have made so far. They have also informed me that plastic is needed in some wet wipes used for industrial or medical purposes. I would welcome further discussion on this and would certainly consider modifications where necessary. I'm not convinced that the industry will make the changes needed without additional pressure, but I hope to continue working with them on this.
On the face of it, this seems to be the Bill that no one disagrees with. I am delighted to have support from cross-party MPs and the support of organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society, Thames 21, the Green Alliance, Water UK, Thames Water and the WWF.
Enough is enough – let's ban plastic in wet wipes once and for all. I would encourage everyone to show their support by sharing this on social media with #BanPlasticinWetWipes. For now, I would also encourage everyone to buy plastic-free wet wipes with a “fine to flush” accreditation and to always put your wet wipes in the bin.
Fleur Anderson is the Labour MP for Putney.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.