The UK Government set to ban plastic-containing wet wipes to tackle water pollution

An average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100 metres of beach across the UK between 2015 and 2020.

Today (22 April), the Environment Secretary has confirmed that the Government will implement the ban on wet wipes with plastic this year, with plans to bring forward the legislation for England before the summer recess, and for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales by the autumn.

This comes after the Government ran a public consultation last year on proposals to ban wet wipes containing plastic across the UK. The proposal received ‘overwhelming’ public support, with 95% of respondents in favour of it.

Research conducted by the BBC in 2019 found that 11 billion wet wipes are sold in the UK each year, with 90% containing some plastic content. Wet wipes containing plastic are not biodegradable and are hard to recycle.

Moreover, according to Defra’s beach litter monitoring data, an average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100 metres of beach across the UK between 2015 and 2020.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Wet wipes containing plastic are polluting our waterways and causing microplastics to enter the environment.

“Defra will introduce legislation before the summer recess to crack down on this unnecessary source of pollution, following our successful single-use carrier bag charge and ban on microbeads in personal care products.”

Wet wipes not only leach microplastics into the environment, but also clog waterways. According to Water UK which represents the water industry, wet wipes flushed down toilets cause 93% of sewer blockages and cost around £100m a year to clear up.

Barclay added: “I have been clear that a step change is needed to protect our waterways from pollution.

“The ban builds on a raft of actions already taken to protect our waterways and hold water companies accountable.”

Earlier this month, the Government announced plans to put ‘unlimited’ fines on water companies found to be polluting the environment, with funds raised set to be reinvested in a new water restoration fund.

Industry reaction

Campaign groups have welcomed the announcement of the ban; however, the groups are calling on the Government to further tackle the plastic crisis by implementing similar bans on all single-use plastic products and provide more policy certainty for businesses to make the transition away from plastics.

City to Sea’s chief executive Jane Martin said: “It’s a positive step forward to see the Government take definitive action on banning this pollutant, but action must not end there.

“Now it’s wet wipes, next, we’d like to see a cap on – and reduction in – UK plastic production.

“With an election looming, eyes are on the Government to step up the fight on plastics and protect the environment and human health.”

A Plastic Planet & Plastic Health Council’s co-founder Sian Sutherland said: “This piecemeal approach, banning singe use items one at a time, does not show the leadership we need in the plastic crisis.

“It does not give industry clear indication on future policy and business cannot commit to change without certainty on what will no longer be legal.

“With the fourth round of negotiations for a UN Global Plastics Treaty starting today in Ottawa, I urge both the UK and delegates from all nations to heed the science on plastic and place it at the Treaty’s core.”

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Foul waste only enters our waterways when it is allowed to bypass treatment plants and dumped straight into the rivers.
    Better than banning the wet wipes would be to treat the waste properly.
    But then, it is cheaper just to dump the inconvenient rubbish into the river.
    As long as water treatment remains in private hands, profit will be the first consideration in its treatment.
    Such essentials, vital to the nation, should never be “businesses”. Gas and electricity join water in this matter.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie