Wet wipes under fire in the War on Plastic

Wet wipes under fire in the War on Plastic

BBC One's War on Plastic is lifting the lid on Bristol’s toilet-flushing habits, with wet wipes back in the firing line. 

The documentary challenges families living in the same street to drastically reduce the amount of single-use plastics in their homes for four months. 

Anita Rani at water recycling centre

Wessex Water arranged for presenter Anita Rani and the families to visit our water recycling centre in Avonmouth, where they saw for themselves how wet wipes don’t break down like regular toilet paper when flushed and generate tonnes of needless waste when they arrive at the centre.   

The second episode of the mini-series on Monday night (17 June), presented by Anita and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, uncovers the horrible truth about how much plastic is used in the manufacture of wipes and the damage they can cause to the environment – not to mention the sewer system and people's homes.

Wessex Water’s Matt Wheeldon, who features in the programme, said: "Every day our staff are called out to help customers who’ve suffered a blockage caused by wet wipes being wrongly flushed down their toilet or a neighbour's.

"These blockages can lead to sewage flooding people’s homes and gardens, a horrific experience that could easily be avoided by everyone only flushing the three Ps – paper, poo and pee.

"We were delighted to invite Anita and the families to our water recycling centre, where huge mountains of wet wipes build up after being screened and removed with other unflushable material."

At the start of this year the water industry body Water UK announced the first Fine to Flush standard for moist tissue wipes, with a new logo to help avoid confusion and reassure customers.

Products must meet water companies' own stringent tests to be deemed Fine to Flush, but so far these wipes are not widely available at major retailers and supermarkets.

Instead, most leading brands still adhere to old standards set by the European industry body EDANA, which represents the wet wipe manufacturers.

Wessex Water has been lobbying for more responsible branding and marketing of "flushable" wipes since 2016, and we now want supermarkets to only stock products that are clearly labelled.

"Fine to Flush means free from plastic and rigorously tested, meaning the wipe will break down in the sewer system," Matt said.

"Anything else should be marked Do Not Flush, with nothing in between. It's as simple as that.

"Only then, when customers have clear and unequivocal disposal guidance, can we hope to end the nightmare of wipe-related blockages."

War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita is on BBC One at 9pm on Monday 17 June, plus the BBC iPlayer.