Flushable Wipes Fail U.K.’s Water Industry Test

Nov. 14, 2018

Water companies say flushable wipes don’t break down and are causing blockages in the U.K.

Wet wipes being sold as “flushable” in the United Kingdom have failed the water industry’s disintegration tests so far, according to BBC News.

The water companies say the wipes don’t break down and are causing blockages, costing them millions. According to BBC News, manufacturers are insisting their test is adequate and the blockages are actually caused by people flushing the non-flushable wipes down the toilet.

The wipes contain plastic fibres which can harm fish and other marine life as the fibres are released and ingested, according to BBC News. The fibres may then go on to be consumed by animals that may be potentially entering the human food chain.

The U.K. government is working with manufacturers and water companies to develop a product that does not contain plastic and can be safely flushed, according to BBC News.

The wet wipe epidemic is behind up to 80% of sewer blockages in the U.K. According to BBC News, a key element of the problem are giant obstacles known as “fatbergs.”

According to U.K. water companies, it costs £100m a year to deal with them.

"It's extremely frustrating. The amount of money that gets spent on dealing with blockages and disposing of this material could be reinvested in our aging infrastructure," said Tony Griffiths, from United Utilities to BBC News. “If we’re not spending all this money, we could actually work to reduce customer bills.”

Matt Wheeldon, director at Wessex Water, has been pushing for action to prevent wipes being labelled as flushable when they are not.

“I think they’re a complete scourge on our society,” Wheeldon said to BBC News. “Whoever came up with the bad idea didn’t think about the impact they’re going to have on the environment.”

Natalie Fee, founder of campaign organization City to Sea, says most manufacturers specify that the so-called flushable wipes should only be flushed “one at a time.”

"Despite what the label says, these wipes definitely shouldn't be flushed down the toilet," Fee said to BBC News. "Manufacturers clearly know this is a problem. We need to start seeing them change what they say [on the packaging]. It can be confusing for consumers."