New 'Fine to Flush' Standard to Combat Pollution From Wetwipes
Water UK has published an official new standard identifying which wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely. A new packaging logo will be introduced to clearly inform consumers which products can be safely flushed down the toilet.
As previously reported, some products have been incorrectly labelled as 'flushable', when in fact they are a leading cause of environmental pollution and the rise in 'fatbergs' that cause blockages in the country's sewage systems. Wet-wipes are a particular cause for concern, as they are often manufactured from plastic fibres and do not disintegrate or biodegrade.
Fatbergs – mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass – have been increasing in frequency in recent years. These include a 250m long fatberg found in Whitechapel, London in 2017 which weighed 130 tonnes and a 64m fatberg found blocking a sewer in Sidmouth, Devon, earlier in January.
Manufacturers of wipes will be able to feature an official water industry ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on their packaging, as long as they pass a series of strict scientific tests and conform to the new Water Industry Specification 4-02-06. The symbol will let consumers know that the products do not contain plastic, and will break down in the sewer systems. Many of the current products labelled as 'flushable' would not, according to water UK, pass those tests.
Commenting on the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard Water UK Chief Executive Michael Roberts said: 'This is an important step in the battle against blockages. We’ve all seen the impact of fatbergs recently, and we want to see fewer of them. Improving the environment is at the core of what the water industry does, and the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard that we’ve created will make it easier for consumers to buy an environmentally-friendly product instead of one which clogs up drains and sewers.'
Sewer blockages cost up to £100million each year to clear, with thousands of properties in the UK flooded as a result. Cleanup bills, insurance costs and the possibility of serious illness as a result of sewage floods further increase the cost. Yet, this is only part of the story. Once they find their way into the world's waterways and oceans, they pose a hazard to marine life on a scale that has only come to light in recent years.
Following the publication by Water UK, Dr. Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society said: 'In 2018, during our annual Great British Beach Clean and survey, we found on average 12 wet wipes per 100m of beach cleaned and surveyed - an increase of over 300 per cent over the last decade. We want a simple system where a product is either clearly labelled as 'do not flush' or has passed the 'fine to flush' standard and has the logo on the pack. We know that there is huge confusion for consumers on which products can be flushed, resulting in millions being spent on blockages every year.'
'Unfortunately, some products on the market labelled as flushable have been known to contain plastic fibres adding to plastic pollution in our oceans,' said Dr Foster. 'In addition, by not being designed for realistic conditions found in UK sewers, they may not break down fast enough and therefore potentially contribute to blockages.'
We will be asking retailers to ensure any product they tell consumers can be flushed, passes this new standard which has been designed by UK water companies, and any products which do not meet this standard are clearly labelled as 'do not flush.' This helps consumers make the right choices helping to reduce any potential blockages and know that their flushable product is also plastic free.'