Image credit: Marine Conservation Society
Last year, around 50 wipes per kilometre were picked up during the Great British Beach Clean weekend, which is a 30% rise from the previous year and a whopping 400% increase in the last decade.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the Plastic Challenge? Well, I was surprised to find out that many wet wipes contain plastic fibres, and so by flushing them, those tiny bits of plastic end up in the food chain.
Also, around £88 million is being spent annually on sorting out sewer blockages caused by unflushables such as wet wipes, sanitary waste, fats and oils and the water companies will certainly be passing that cost straight on to us, the customer. So it’s bad for the environment and bad for your purse.
Photo credit: Natasha Ewins
Personally, it has never occurred to me to flush anything but poo, wee and toilet tissue down the loo, but it’s obvious from beach cleans that people do regularly flush all kinds of stuff. So the message is simply – think before you flush!
Now we’re not just talking baby wipes here. Cleaning your face and house has been made quick and easy with wipes, and our disposable society has sucked them right up, often for good reason: convenience and worries about spreading illness.
In terms of baby wipes, I’ve always bought Jackson Reece Kinder by Nature which are available in most supermarkets and chemists. They’re biodegradable, compostable and don’t contain nasty chemicals like parabens and SLS, but that still doesn’t mean they are flushable (in fact they state “do not flush” on the packet). And if you’re thinking they must be super expensive too, you’re wrong; I have never paid more than £1.50/packet and sometimes only £1/packet because I buy them in bulk wherever there’s an offer on – sneaky huh! This makes them cheaper than many un-eco varieties.
Even biodegradable & compostable wipes are not flushable!
But, even eco-friendly wet wipes come in a plastic packets. The only solution I have found for this is Terracycle who have a network of collectors for a variety of things including wet wipe packets, biscuit wrappers, spray bottle tops, pens and Ella’s baby food pouches. What can be recycled is often specific to the sponsors (ie. the big name manufacturers) but as well as providing recycling for items which would otherwise end up in landfill, the collectors can earn money for charity. Sadly, our local collector has recently stopped taking baby wipe wrappers although is still able to take household wipe wrappers (these rules are made up by the sponsors not her!)
The huge increase in wet wipes found on the beach is indicative of the fact they are such a handy, disposable product and, quite frankly, I have no idea how parents coped with poonami nappies before their invention. But there are great, reusable alternatives such as Cheeky Wipes.
Whilst, I think re-usable wipes are great for hands and faces, I’m less convinced about dealing with poo. The video demo makes it look easy (I am convinced they’re effective) but what do you do with your bag of poo-laden wipes? It’s suggested to wash them with anti-bacterial laundry wash, which is something I’m concerned about, as it will be flushing straight out into the aquatic ecosystem, and who knows what problems that will cause? Presumably, you’d also have to keep bottom and face wipes separate, and I can’t imagine nursery or grandma taking well all these extra instructions when they’re on childcare duty. Suddenly the extra washing, drying, sorting, soaking, explaining instructions, dealing with poo and anti bacterial wash seems an awful lot of hassle, and it’s understandable why most people opt for disposable wipes.
Eco-friendly wipes and the most bio-degradable nappies I can find!
I decided at the start of the Plastic Challenge that it was my challenge rather than my toddler’s. I’d love him to be single-use-plastic free too (and he’s doing pretty well!) but there were a variety of reasons that I knew this would be near impossible; wet wipes being just one of them. Unless I made a huge investment (over £250) in re-usable nappies and all the associated paraphernalia (which I had previously discounted as an option) it would be virtually impossible to go entirely plastic-free in terms of the baby. However, we are using 77% biodegradable disposable nappies (the most biodegradable nappies available including their packaging), plus biodegradable & compostable wipes. The wet wipe packets and the plastic medicine bottle top have so far been the only real stumbling blocks. Overall, our little one seems to be coping with single-use-plastic free life pretty well, despite my hit and miss cooking, but that’s a story for another day.