Wouldn’t you expect wipes from packets labelled ‘flushable’ to break down quickly in the sewer and be safe to flush?
As it turns out, it’s not that simple!
By their very nature, wet wipes are not designed to break down easily. As explained in an article about the infamous Whitechapel Fatberg, wet wipes are non-woven materials bonded together using resins, chemicals or high pressure, preventing them from easily breaking apart.
That’s kind of the point; you wouldn’t want a wet wipe to break up as you were using it to clean! But as they’re also designed to remain moist, water alone isn’t enough to break them down.
So, it would seem that flushing them down the toilet is not inconsequential and it is difficult to argue against this. In Yorkshire alone, wet wipes are responsible for 12,000 drain and sewer blockages every year, while Thames Water clear five wipe-caused blockages from their sewer network every hour.
Most of the major UK water companies strongly advise against flushing wet wipes, even those branded ‘flushable’. Many, in a bid to raise awareness about the impact of flushing these wipes, run social media campaigns that include images and videos of blockages, fatbergs and the damage these can cause!
(image: Thames Water)
There is hope however, thanks to a campaign from Water UK called ‘Fine to Flush, which has been running now for almost a year and delivers an official standard aimed at helping customers identify brands of wet wipes that can be safely flushed down toilets.
The ‘Fine to Flush’ standard, which manufacturers can apply for, is awarded to products that pass stringent scientific testing for flushability.
Products that meet the standard can carry the ‘Fine to Flush’ logo, making customers aware that the products are plastic-free and will break down in the sewer system.
While there is optimism around the campaign, and any action that ensures unsuitable wipes kept out of the sewer system, it has been slow progress so far, with only three products achieving the standard in 2019.
But by appealing to public conscience and raising awareness of just how disruptive these blockages can be, water companies are hoping to reduce their number significantly.
As Thames Water suggests, the message is simple…’bin it – don’t block it!’