'Flushable' wipes sold in the UK fail to disintegrate

Wipes promoted as 'flushable' are being blamed for causing floods, blockages and disruption. Credit: ITV News

Many "flushable" wet wipes sold in the UK do not break down and are blocking sewers, new research has found.

Despite many wipes on supermarket shelves being commonly labelled and sold as "flushable", the claim may be misleading the public, according to the water industry.

Many wet wipes are known to contain plastics such as polyester, which makes them hard to biodegrade when they enter the environment.

Research carried out by the Water Research Center found that many wet wipes which claim to be flushable do not break down, resulting in blocked sewers, costing water companies and tax payers £90 million each year.

Fatbergs can cause serious problems in the sewer system. Credit: Scottish Water / PA

Many blockages are caused by “fatbergs” - large lumps of fatty gunk in the sewer system which can set as hard as concrete, and are caused by fat, oil and grease being disposed of incorrectly down sinks and drains and combining with other items which should not have been flushed away, such as wet wipes and sanitary products.

The research found that so-called 'flushable' wet wipes often do not disintegrate. Credit: ITV News

In May, the Government announced plans to ban wet wipes in the UK as part of a crackdown on plastic being thrown away and damaging ecosystems.

Head of Pollution at the Marine Conservation Society, Dr Laura Foster said: “We will be asking for retailers who sell products claiming flushability to ensure that their products will pass these tests devised by the WRC.

“These tests mimic the conditions found in UK sewers and ensure that the product does not contain plastic, which unfortunately is still the case for some flushable wipes.

“We ask that water companies publish these guidelines as soon as possible, as many retailers have already indicated they wish to change to products which meet the new guidelines.”