Are all wipes flushable?

Are all wipes flushable?

Are all wipes flushable?

Now you may be wondering, “Why are some wipes flushable and some not?”

In this article, I will explain to you why certain wipes must be disposed of properly and why others can be flushed down the drain.

I’ve heard these questions go around a lot and the biggest question I get is “Would flushing the wipes down the drain really be an issue? The answer to that is…yes!

Now I’m not talking about all wipes but a large portion of them will be made from plastics and other materials such as polyester and cotton that’s woven together with plastic resins, which take a long time to break down, causing blockages in sewers. The reason for this article isn’t to put you off from using wet wipes, but it’s to inform you of the proper ways of disposing of the different types of materials.

The 3 main types of wet wipes we will be discussing are:

Flushable Wipes

- Flushable wipes are usually made from materials such as wood pulp fibres, but what makes them special is that it’s engineered to lose strength as the wipes move throughout the sewers. This is also great for use in septic tanks because the wipes float to the top instead of sinking to the bottom, which helps to prevent expensive blockages. Over time the wipes will dissolve, but it could still take a couple of months for them to break down.

Biodegradable Wipes

- Biodegradable Wipes are made from materials such as organic cotton, wood pulp, and bamboo. Many people assume that biodegradable wipes are the same as flushable wipes and therefore can be disposed of in drains – this is not the case. Even though they are made from similar materials, the way that they break down is different. Microorganisms break down this material naturally over time, but it has to be disposed of correctly in places such as landfill sites or composting areas. The time it takes for this material to break down depends on the surroundings, but it should fully break down in a matter of weeks.

Polypropylene Wipes

– Polypropylene wipes are typically made from thermoplastic polymer and are used mostly for industrial purposes such as cleanrooms, workshops, and factories. It’s non-abrasive and durable, as well as tear and heat-resistant. Since these wipes are made from plastic, they must be disposed of in landfills so that it doesn’t end up in our oceans. These wipes are made using a melt-blown or bonding process, forming long rolls that are then turned into nonwoven fibers. Polypropylene is also used in a wide range of products such as plastic packaging, equipment, and even manufacturing car batteries! It’s safe to use on surfaces and your skin, and it has been approved by the FDA for its use as a food contact material.

You may be wondering, why the time spent on explaining the different wipe types. This is to demonstrate that it is never going to be beneficial for all wipes to be flushable. This is because many don’t get used anywhere near a washroom so are not likely to get flushed. Flushable material doesn’t have the strength needed for many applications which means a polymer-based material is required and when disposed of responsibly then will not cause drain blockages or pollution.

Are all wipes flushable?

How do I know if my wipes are flushable?

Fine to Flush was implemented back in 2019, and it serves as a standard that tests wet wipe products under laboratory conditions. Currently, this is the only standard to exist in the UK and these tests mimic the real-world conditions in our sewers. Wipes with the logo 'Fine to Flush' that are on the market will have this logo on them giving you the assurance they are fine to flush!

When non flushable wet wipes get flushed down the sewers, they can build up over time and create big clumps called Fatbergs. This happens when wet wipes, oil, and grease combine, creating a mass that causes blockages and can be difficult to break down.

It’s estimated that there are over 300,000 sewer blockages every year in the UK and fatbergs are one of the main causes for this. It can be time-consuming and expensive to deal with these, for instance, Utility Southwest Water spends roughly £4.5 million every year to deal with these blockages!

For the wipes to pass the “Fine to Flush“ standard, they must be made from materials that break down easily. For instance, wood pulp fibres are used a lot in the production of wet wipes because the wipes lose their strength over time.

If you are unsure whether your wipes are safe to flush, the best thing to do is to dispose of them in a nearby bin after use.

Should I be worried about using flushable wipes?

Now there are no problems in using these wipes as they are perfectly safe to use, and come in handy in a lot of situations, but it makes a big difference if you dispose of them correctly.

You may have seen that some wipe manufacturers claim that their wet wipes are flushable, but it’s not always the case! Some manufacturer’s wipes are mainly made up of plastics which could take 100 years or more to break down and will most likely cause blockages in sewers, causing harm to marine life. That’s why when the Government Bill banning single-use wet wipes is enacted, businesses will have to bear more responsibility regarding the use of single-use plastics.

But this doesn’t just apply to businesses. Companies such as Northumbrian Water can even charge you for the cost of clearing if you are caught flushing wipes that don’t have the ”Fine-to-Flush” logo.

Since implementing the “Fine to Flush” standard, over 100 leading wet wipe manufacturers have received a certificate and passed the testing. And now with everyone’s efforts to minimize pollution worldwide, more companies have started implementing flushable wipes to prevent further damage to our oceans.

Are single-use plastics being banned from the UK?

The good news is that the UK has announced the possibility of banning certain wet wipes in 2024, but this only applies to wet wipes which are made up of plastics that don’t break down easily. This was announced by the Defra Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey on April 4th, 2023, in an attempt to protect UK waterways.

DEFRA stands for Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, and they are responsible for environmental protection, food protection and standards, agriculture, fisheries, and rural communities around the UK. Defra was formed in 2001 in an attempt to improve and protect the environment, and it’s now supported by 33 agencies and public bodies.

Once this bill comes into place, manufacturers will have to bear more responsibility to make sure they are doing everything they can to minimize the amount of plastic wipes entering our oceans. Now this bill won’t come into effect right away so that manufacturers have time to change over from single-use plastics, but it’s a step in the right direction in reducing pollution.

Liken this to the single-use plastic bag scenario. Following the success of the 5-pence charge for single-use plastics back in 2015, the cost of plastic bags was increased to a minimum of 10-pence. But ultimately the supermarkets can charge whatever price they choose. While some places still sell plastic bags, most supermarkets have switched to alternatives such as paper bags.

Now it may seem costly but by doing this, we have cut the consumption of plastic bags in supermarkets by up to 95% since 2015.

We all know everyone has that one cupboard that’s filled with spare bags, so why keep buying new ones?

Unlike plastic bags, we won’t be getting charged for the use of wet wipes, but this bill will raise awareness and should help reduce the number of plastic wipes getting into our oceans and washing up on our beaches.

A Defra spokesperson said in an interview:

“This will be the next step in our crackdown on single-use plastic, building on our existing bans on microbeads, cotton buds, plastic straws and stirrers, and our plastic bag charge – all of which have stopped tonnes of unnecessary plastic entering our environment.

As the success of these recent measures have shown, this can be achieved without unfairly impacting on consumers – something we will be mindful of as we consider these plans.”

Are all wipes flushable?

Recycling Wet Wipes.

Most wipes will not be recyclable, and this is due to several things. For instance, synthetic fibers that make up wet wipes prevent them from being recycled or compostable. The other problem with recycling used wet wipes is that the process is difficult and costly, such as collection of the wet wipes, the impregnation, and the contamination of the used wipes. Now there are a few companies such as Teracycle that in recent years claim they can recycle plastic wipes, but this service is only available in certain areas of the country.

If you have a personal compost bin, you can dispose of your biodegradable wipes there but only if they are made from 100% natural materials. To speed up the process of decomposing, you can cut the wet wipes into smaller pieces, and you can also make sure that you remove as much of the chemical as possible before placing the wipes in the compost bin. However, using a biodegradable wipe containing a plant-based solution means that the solution is also biodegradable too.

Regarding all other wipes, it is advised that you dispose of them in a nearby bin, but always check the product label for instructions.

Here are some options for Biodegradable Wipes that are safe for recycling.

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