The environmental impact of flushing wipes
Disposing of wipes down the toilet contributes to problems locally, nationally, and internationally. On a local level, blockages develop in the sewers which need to be cleared by professionals, either at the expense of the public purse or your own. Nationally and internationally, however, flushing wipes can contribute to wider issues.
Here are three major problems with flushing wipes down the toilet instead of disposing of them properly.
1. They end up on beaches
One of the key pieces of misinformation about flushable wipes is that they are biodegradable. Many manufacturers highlight this on the packaging, encouraging customers to flush wipes because they will decompose. What the packaging neglects to state, though, is how long this process will take. It is far from instantaneous and those wipes must go somewhere in the meantime. Some congeal in sewers; others are washed up on our beaches.
In 2015, the Marine Conservation Society organised a Great British Beach Clean Weekend in which over 6,000 people participated. Their data showed that there had been a 31% rise in the number of wet wipes found on beaches in comparison to 2014 and, indeed, the 2014 figures were a 50% rise on 2013. This led to their Wet Wipes Turn Nasty campaign launched in 2016.
2. Marine life mistake them for food
Wipes that find their way into our waterways and seas can be mistaken as food by marine animals. This leads to them consuming the plastic resins contained in wipes such as polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene. When these plastics are broken down, they become microplastics. These are small enough to be ingested by marine life, entering the marine food chain.
3. Plastics find their way into our food
Zooplankton eat microplastics, larger fish eat the zooplankton, and we eat the larger fish. In a few steps, we find ourselves eating the very plastics we disposed of down our toilets. Plastic as part of our everyday diet is an unappealing thought, especially since we have no idea yet of the long-term effects of ingesting plastics in this form.
Flushable wipes are a modern nuisance that needs to be eradicated. The environmental effects are just one strand of what makes wipes such a menace. When you combine them with the impact wipes have on our local sewers and households, you begin to build up a nasty picture.
The best thing you can do? Bin, not flush. It’s that simple.