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Report Confirms Wet Wipes Labelled as Flushable are Not

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The UK water industry has been developing a new standard which tests whether a product is suitable for flushing down the toilet. When it comes to wet wipes, the findings show that most of them are not.

Despite many wet wipe packages available on supermarket shelves being labelled as 'flushable', the report suggests that the claims of flushability 'are misleading the public.' 

Wet wipes are a leading cause of drain blockages and, partly made of plastics, also contribute to the problems of plastic pollution. Furthermore, the so-called 'fatbergs' that become lodged in the sewer system have been recorded as being made up of only 0.5 per cent solidified fats, and an astonishing 93 per cent of the blockage comprised of wet wipes.

£90 million is spent by the water industry each year on clearing blocked drains alone, ultimately adding costs to customers water bills, according to Water UK. While the majority of these are baby wipes, which were never designed to be flushed, the growing market of so-called 'flushable' wipes has led conservation organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society to launch campaigns in order to tackle the problem.

MCS has campaigned for several years to see action on the labelling of wet wipes, as sewage contamination of waterways and beaches often results from blocked pipes, many of which are caused unnecessarily by items such as wet wipes being flushed. In 2017, MCS collected over 10,000 signatures in a petition to the wet wipe industry body EDANA asking them to ensure members removed plastic from their flushable products and that flushable wipes complied with UK Water Industry standards.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at MCS, said: 'We want to see clear labelling on wet wipes, and will be asking for retailers who sell products claiming flushability to ensure that their products will pass these flushability tests devised by WRC. These tests mimic the conditions found in UK sewers and ensures that the product does not contain plastic, which unfortunately is still the case for some flushable wipes. We urge the water industry to publish the standard as soon as possible, as many retailers have already indicated they wish to change to products which meet the new guidelines.'

'The public purchase these products thinking that they will not cause any issues down the sewers and are shocked to find out they may contain plastic and not break up sufficiently in the sewers. In fact, 83 per cent of the British public, questioned in a YouGov poll for MCS, support 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 down the toilet without causing blockages. That’s more than 4 out of 5 people, with most support coming from those aged over 55 years,' said Dr Foster.

Data from the 2017 MCS Great British Beach Clean revealed a startling 94 per cent rise in the number of wet wipes found on UK beaches.

For more information about what happens to wet wipes after they've been flushed into the sewer system, visit the Wet Wipes Turn Nasty website.

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