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Flushable wet wipes are not fine to flush

The fight against ‘fatbergs’ in UK sewers received a major boost in January with the publication of a new official UK water industry standard – the Fine to Flush logo – identifying which wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely. The ‘Fine to Flush’ standard was introduced by Water UK which represents water companies across the country.

If wet wipes pass these tests, they can feature the ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on their packaging. If they don’t, Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and water companies want to see wipes clearly labelled as ‘Do not flush.’

The logo lets consumers know that the ‘fine to flush’ products don’t contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system instead of clogging up sewers and contributing to fatbergs which cause blockages and sewage overflows.

Fatbergs – mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass – have been increasing in frequency in recent years. These include a 250-metre long fatberg in Whitechapel in London in 2017 which weighed as much as nineteen elephants.

However, in May, the MCS found that own-brand wet wipes labelled as ‘flushable’ which can be bought from 10 leading High Street retailers and supermarkets – Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Boots, Morrisons and Wilko – are unsuitable to carry the new logo. These retailers were not embracing the new standard.

"Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Tesco and Waitrose – told us that they are either investigating options, have no plans to test their own brand ‘flushable’ wipes against the new guidelines or they haven’t yet decided,” said Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas.

“Asda, Boots, Morrisons and Wilko – told us that they have either started to test their wipes against the ‘Fine to Flush’ standard or will have done so by the end of 2019 and will then make changes to their wipes to ensure that they either meet the guidelines, or they will be labelled 'Do not flush’.

However, Morrisons have only committed to test their wipes, not to complying with the standard afterwards.

Since MCS first raised the issue of wet wipes ending up on our beaches as far back as 2016, all the major retailers have removed plastic from their own brand ‘flushable’ wipes where it existed. Many had been unaware that there was plastic in these wipes at all. But there is no guarantee that they break down quickly and easily in the sewer system.

“We urge people not to buy these products and to consider using more environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use wet wipes. Any wet wipe without the Fine to Flush logo should be placed in the bin,” - Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas.

Of course, an alternative to single-use wet wipes is a reusable product like a washable flannel.

See the nappies, menstrual products and toilet paper guides for more reusable alternatives to ‘disposable’ products:

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