‘It’s time to ditch wet wipes that blight our beaches and rivers’

They might be convenient but our addiction to wet wipes is causing a major environmental problem.

Full of plastic microfibres – some by as much as 90% – they are blighting our beaches and rivers, and in turn cause a risk to marine life, potentially ending up on your dinner plate.

One study showed that 75% of flounder samples in the river had plastic in their guts. Another found nearly a third of fish in the Thames Estuary had eaten plastic.

We use 11 billion wet wipes in the UK each year, spending a staggering half a billion pounds – a booming industry that has grown by 30% since 2014.

The popular products – sold for anything from make-up removal to cleaning surfaces – routinely fail the industry’s disintegration test, meaning they do not break down sufficiently to allow them to be harmlessly flushed down the lavatory.

But because they disappear, many of us assume they are safe in doing so, leading to 9.3 million a day being flushed down the loo.

Instead, they float along in the sewer creating fatbergs – vast lumps of congealed cooking fat, held together by millions of used wipes causing flooding.

A visit to parts of the River Thames at low tide also reveals that millions formed into filthy banks have caused such an issue that environmentalists have dubbed it the “Great Wet Wipe Reef”.

The Marine Conservation Society found an average of 12 wet wipes per 100 metres of beach were cleaned up last year – a leap of more than 300% compared with 10 years previously.

Manufacturers have been able to use the “fine to flush” symbol on ­packaging since January – if the wipe passes Water UK’s stringent tests – aimed to reassure the product doesn’t contain plastic and will break down.

But this labelling is not mandatory and so far only one make of wipe has passed the test.

Last month, the Government announced a ban on plastic straws, cutlery and cotton buds in favour of eco-friendly alternatives. Disappointedly, despite considering their impact, wet wipes did not make the list.

Days before, Holland & Barrett became the first UK retailer to remove all 34 ­products in its wet-wipe range, replacing them with sustainable alternatives.

Until further action is taken we rely on more retailers following this lead. Banning this form of single-use plastic is the only way to protect our marine life from an invasive hazard.

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