UK Government considering ban on plastic wet wipes

Defra has announced the possibility of a ban on wet wipes containing plastic for 2024 in an attempt to protect UK waterways. The announcement came in a statement made to the BBC yesterday (4 April) by Defra Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey. The ban will become law following a legally-required consultation.

Plastic wet wipes bannedThe ban forms part of ‘Plan for Water’ – a plan to improve water quality in England, where no river or waterway is considered clean. According to the Marine Conservation Society, it was found that around 90 per cent of the wet wipes used in the UK contain plastic.

In May 2019, a ban on the sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds, straws, and stirrers in England was announced in an effort to reduce plastic waste. The UK Government stated it was considering further bans on other items – including wet wipes – and a consultation was launched in March 2020. It sought views on whether it should include all types of wet wipes (such as those used for household cleaning), or only those used for personal care, and whether there should be any exemptions. 96 per cent of people were in favour of the ban when the results were published in 2021.

The government banned further single-use plastic items – ​​including plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and beverage containers – earlier this year. At the same time, Defra once again called for evidence on other common sources of plastic pollution – including wet wipes. This makes this the third consultation on banning wet wipes in the UK.

Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Chair Philip Dunne MP said: “I welcome this wide-ranging Plan for Water to improve water quality in England’s rivers.

“Accepting our recommendation to ban polluting plastic wet wipes will help to reduce the excessive use of storm overflows. These single-use wipes clog up drains and sewage works. They combine with fat and grease in sewers and congeal into revolting ‘fat bergs’ that cost water companies and billpayers many millions to unblock every year.

Jo Royle, founder and CEO of Common Seas, added: “It’s a big step forward to see the government taking water pollution seriously by proposing to outlaw plastic-based wet wipes.

“But wet wipes are only one of the many plastics that end up in our waterways, in our drinking water, and eventually in our blood. This may be having a serious effect on our health.”
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet and PlasticFree, commented: “Plastic wet wipes should, of course, be banned but today’s announcement feels more like an attempt to spin a news story than a serious strategy to turn off the plastic tap.”

While the Government has been considering the ban, the retail industry has taken steps to reduce the amount of plastic used in wet wipes – largely through consumer pressure. This includes switching to biodegradable or compostable materials and removing plastic from overall packaging, such as the outer wrap or the lid, to reduce the total amount of plastic used. Boots, for example, removed all plastic from wet wipes sold in their stores regardless of the brand in February this year. Aldi and Tesco have similar bans in place, whereas Holland and Barret stopped selling wet wipes completely in 2019.

There is also a growing market for reusable wet wipes, also known as washable wipes or cloth wipes. These are typically made from soft, absorbent materials such as cotton or bamboo and can be washed and reused multiple times. According to a report by Euromonitor, sales of reusable household wipes in the UK increased by 20 per cent in 2020, with a similar trend seen in other countries.

Related Articles