The minister urges people not to use wet wipes amid concerns over plastic

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow says: “If you don’t have to use a wet wipe, don’t use it, but don’t throw it down the toilet either.”


A minister has urged people to avoid using wet wipes amid pressure to ban those containing plastic.

Environment Secretary Rebecca Pow called for members of the public, if they have to use wet wipes, not to flush them down the toilet.

Labor MP Fleur Anderson has said a ban on plastic wet wipes is “very doable” and has tabled legislation to make it happen.

But the Putney MP’s Plastics (Wet Wipes) Bill is unlikely to become law without government support.

During a session of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the House of Commons, Ms Anderson told MPs: “Billions of wet wipes containing plastic are still being used across the country, causing environmental damage and clogging our sewers.”

She asked the minister to meet her to discuss a possible plastic ban after a government consultation on commonly discarded single-use plastic items, including wet wipes, concluded in February.

Ms Pow replied: “Obviously we’ve had a great response to this call for evidence.

“We’re working through the details and of course we need to make sure that a ban doesn’t have repercussions that cause similar problems, even though other wet wipes might be deemed suitable for flushing, they still get stuck in the drains so we have to look.” be aware of all of this.

“What I would say to everyone is if you don’t need to use a wet wipe, don’t do it, but don’t throw it down the toilet either.”

Labor MP Andrew Gwynne told MPs the effects of wet wipe pollution on rivers made them look like a scene from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton’s 1993 children’s film set in a dark fantasy world.

Tory MP Rebecca Pow


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He said wet wipes from the sewage system are being released into rivers in overflow drains, leading to a build-up of microplastics and polluting the River Tame in his Denton and Reddish constituency.

“What is she doing, not only to spread the message about not flushing wet wipes down the toilet, but also to clean up our riverbanks so they don’t look like a horrifying scene from Nightmare Before Christmas?” he asked.

Ms Pow said she agreed it was “disgusting”, adding: “That’s why we’re doing all the work, that’s why we’ve done the evidence and we’re going to make some suggestions, which we plan to do very shortly.”

Ms Anderson told the PA news agency: “It’s still the case that we use at least 11 billion wet wipes a year, that it’s in 90% of the material that blocks loos and it’s costing water companies £100million to fix those blockages remove .”

Boots and Tesco, she said, have banned plastic in all wet wipes they sell, adding that for Tesco that’s 4.8 billion wet wipes a year.

“If Boots and Tesco can do it, all manufacturers can do it,” she said.

Regarding the effects on the sewage system, she said: “There is a lack of awareness that they do not disintegrate when washed down, but remain in the system for a long time. They go out to sea, they go to the banks of the Thames.

“There are 30,000 clogs a year from wet wipes; 90% of this waste material is wet wipes according to the water company… costing us money on our water bills.”

She added: “There’s an island the size of two tennis courts and I’ve been and stood by it – it’s near Hammersmith Bridge in the Thames and is a meter deep or more in spots with just wet wipes… it actually changed the course of The River Thames.”

Wet wipe manufacturers are able to replace plastic with other materials, adding, “It’s entirely possible…there are biodegradable alternatives like bamboo.”

Noting the current “confusing packaging,” Ms Anderson added, “That’s why it’s really important to ban all plastic in the manufacture of wet wipes… It’s very confusing for the public, they want to do the right thing.”

Ms. Anderson is seeking further consideration of her second reading bill on 16 September.

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