Why it’s such big news that Holland & Barrett is banning wet wipes

21st May 19 | Lifestyle

The humble wipe has a much bigger environmental impact than you might think – and we’re getting through millions of them a day.

Woman hands taking wet wipe from package.

They’re convenient to have on hand if you spill something sticky or want to take your make-up off in a hurry, but unfortunately there’s a huge cost to using wet wipes – particularly if you’re flushing them down the toilet.

Now, businesses are waking up to the impact they can have on animals and our sewage systems, and Holland & Barrett recently announced it was the UK’s first high street retailer to ban wet wipes completely.

It’s hard to ignore the scale of the problem – according to the Earth Watch Institute, 9.3 million wet wipes are flushed down toilets every day.

They might flush just fine, but wipes can pose a huge problem for sewage systems over time. Wet wipes don’t dissolve as easily as toilet paper, so can clog up your pipes and even cause sewage to come back into your house if blockages build up. Some wipes might say they’re flushable, but you’re far safer not risking it.

In 2017, Water UK found that wet wipes made up over 90% of material causing sewer blockages – which can lead to huge and damaging blockages known as ‘fatbergs’. According to Water UK, there are around 300,000 sewer blockages every year, costing the country £100 million.

So there are potentially gross and costly impacts on our sewage systems, but what about the environment? Well, most wet wipes contain non-biodegradable plastic and are wrapped in yet more plastic, and they can make their way into the seas too.

There’s been a recent crackdown on things like plastic straws and cutlery, so with Holland & Barrett’s move, wet wipes could be the next big thing to come under scrutiny, as we become more aware of how plastic and throwaway, single-use items are harming wildlife. The plastic in wet wipes slowly breaks down into microscopic fibres, which can pollute rivers and seas and even enter animal and human food chains.

Holland & Barrett has pledged to remove wet wipes from its UK and Ireland stores by September 2019. It’s not a surprising move from the store – it was one of the first high street retailers to ban plastic bags and microplastics.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Of course, it’s unlikely that wet wipes will become completely obsolete and nor should they – they’re necessary in some situations, like as medical wipes in hospitals or to make the lives of disabled people easier – but the sheer scale they’re being used now, and the fact so many of them are being flushed down the toilet, certainly needs to change.

In July, Holland & Barrett is launching a 100% waste-free beauty range which will help you stop using wet wipes for good, with sustainable alternatives like a double-sided face cloth, a ramie bath puff and an exfoliating mitt.

© Press Association 2019