'Flushable' wet wipes 'wreaking havoc' on beaches and sewers

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

So-called "flushable" wet wipes are blighting Britain's beaches and blocking sewers, costing water companies and tax payers more than £80 million a year.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said an end to "inappropriate" marketing and labeling of "flushable" products is needed.

It argues that companies who label wipes as "flushable" are failing to adhere to the guidelines set out by water companies internationally.

In an "unprecedented" move, the charity has sent a letter to Trading Standards calling for urgent action to address the issue.

A survey of UK beaches by the MCS last year found nearly 50 wet wipes per kilometre of coastline, a rise of 400% over the last decade.

Wipes have to be fished out of raw sewage. Credit: ITV News

The MCS said increased use of wet wipes was putting huge pressure on the sewage system, with blockages caused by wet wipes and other unflushable items costing water companies and tax payers £88 million a year.

Eighteen countries and 247 water companies and charities across the world have backed a call for action to prevent blockages, sewer flooding and pollution caused by unsuitable items being flushed down the toilet.

Global supporters of call to stop people flushing unsuitable items down the toilet. Credit: MCS

The international water industry statement said that the key requirements for any flushable product are that it:

  • Breaks into small pieces quickly

  • Must not be buoyant

  • Does not contain plastic and only contains degradable materials

Dr. Laura Foster, Head of Pollution at the Marine Conservation Society said: "When we talk to people about the campaign, they are genuinely shocked that something which could clog up their pipes and drains is being labelled as flushable.

"If customers are being told to flush it down the toilet, they expect it to be suitable for drain and sewer systems and not to cause harm to marine life.

"Harm is caused as these products contain plastics or other non-biodegradable materials.

"We advise people only to flush the three Ps: pee, poo and paper."