Can ‘Flushable’ Wipes Really Be Flushed?

Following the discovery of a 64-metre fatberg in Sidmouth, Devon in January, so-called ‘flushable’ wipes and the damage they do to the environment and drainage systems is back on the agenda.

Fatbergs are a very modern phenomenon and one we’d rather do without. Not only do fatbergs and sewer blockages in the UK cost £100m to remove every year, but they also lead to the flooding of drainage and sewer systems that cause immeasurable damage to our rivers and oceans.

Why are flushable wipes such an issue? Well, an estimated 93% of the average fatberg is made up of wet wipes and baby wipes, many of which are labelled as ‘flushable’.

Sales of flushable wet wipes are on the rise

Sales of flushable wipes are predicted to grow at more than twice the rate of all non-woven wipes over the next year. In 2015, flushable wipes accounted for $1.4 billion in sales around the world, but that’s set to nearly double to $2.7 billion by 2020.

This popularity is driven by the unrivalled convenience flushable wipes provide. Flushable wipes are used for everything from feminine hygiene and toddler care to removing makeup, cleaning floors and even as luxury toilet paper. As well as their functionality, wet wipes are low cost, hygienic and conveniently, once you’ve finished using them, they can simply be flushed down the loo.

Why flushable wipes aren’t always flushable

In theory, flushable wet wipes are a convenient and sustainable solution, but in reality, claims that wipes are combustible in water often turn out to be completely false. Many of these wipes contain plastic fibres that will not disintegrate in water. Instead, they add to the plastic waste that’s already littering beaches and harming our marine life.

The other issue is that many flushable wipes are simply not designed for the conditions found in UK sewers. Many wipes do not break down quickly enough. Instead, they mix with the fat, grease, oil, cotton swabs, sanitary pads and other waste that’s commonly flushed down the toilet, to form large and stubborn blockages. That puts the plumbing in your home at risk of serious clogs, which translates to expensive plumbing bills.

These are the compelling reasons why UK water companies have implored wet wipe manufacturers to label their products as non-flushable. However, to date, they have had limited success.

What are the alternatives?

Thankfully, there are numerous alternatives to wet wipes which do not harm the environment or risk damaging your plumbing.

  • Household cleaning – A J-cloth and a little household cleaner is a more environmentally-friendly alternative for cleaning kitchen surfaces and floors.
  • Makeup removal – Wet wipes usually contain alcohol, which dries out the skin and does not clean the face as well as other options. Experts say a simple cleanser washed off with a reusable flannel is a better option for you and the environment.
  • Wiping babies’ bottoms – In this case, putting wipes in the bin is the simple solution. Although wipes will inevitably be sent to landfill, they won’t clog up drainage and sewer pipes or end up in rivers and oceans or on our beaches. Alternatively, a reusable flannel with warm water and baby oil will do the job.

The new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard

Thanks to a new official standard introduced by Water UK, it is possible to continue using and flushing wet wipes without blocking sewer pipes or harming the environment. A new ‘Fine to Flush’ logo will be featured on the packaging of wipes that do not contain any plastic, break down quickly in the sewer system and pass a number of strict scientific tests.

It is expected that many of the products which are currently labelled ‘flushable’ will not pass the more stringent tests. Manufacturers of those wipes that are not ‘Fine to Flush’ will be asked to display ‘Do Not Flush’ on their packaging.

It’s hoped that this new official standard will remove much of the confusion consumers currently have about which products can and cannot be flushed. It’s also an important step in the battle against clogs and blockages, helping to reduce the risks for the thousands of properties that currently experience sewer flooding every year.

In need of some advice?

For more information on how you can combat fatbergs, or if you need advice on avoiding damage to your plumbing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our team are also available 24/7 for all of your emergency plumbing needs.

Additional reading

In the meantime, here are some more articles to help you understand the impact of fake flushable wipes, and how best to banish them from your home: