A UK high street chain is to stop selling wet wipes from the end of September as part of efforts to limit the damage they cause to water systems.
Holland & Barrett is removing all 34 products in its wet wipe range from its 800 UK and Ireland stores and replacing them with sustainable, waste-free and reusable alternatives such as double-sided cotton cloths, unbleached cotton muslin cloths, cotton pads and an exfoliating mitt.
Millions of wet wipes are sold in the UK every year, with uses ranging from make-up removal and hand sanitisers to surface cleaners, with increasing numbers causing problems in sewers and waterways.
Volunteers for the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean last year found an average of 12 wet wipes per 110 yards (100m) of beach cleaned and surveyed, an increase of more than 300% in the last decade.
Sewer-blocking fatbergs, which are mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, oils and grease into a solid mass, have also increased in frequency in recent years.
Industry body Water UK has introduced a “fine to flush” symbol for wet wipe products that have passed testing confirming that they do not contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system.
But Holland & Barrett said such moves did not go far enough and is calling on other retailers to follow its lead.
Joanne Cooke, head of beauty at Holland & Barrett, said: “There is a growing awareness of how much our current throwaway culture is damaging our oceans, beaches and rivers.
“We want to encourage our customers to think about what they currently throw away and encourage them to swap to more sustainable alternatives. The quickest way for us all to make a positive impact on the world we live in is to choose to spend our money on more sustainable products.
“There are a variety of eco-friendly alternatives to wet wipes that are just as easy, efficient, and safe to skin, and we’re excited to be leading the way on these, alongside our exciting suppliers, who are already making huge strides in moving towards a more sustainable future.”
Jo Ruxton, founder of Plastic Oceans Foundation, said: “We are delighted that Holland & Barrett are taking a clear lead on sustainability by banning one of the problem products we see in our rivers and oceans – single-use, disposable wet wipes – which use the world’s precious resources to manufacture, still come in plastic packaging, and still get flushed down the loo or thrown in the bin.
“We hope that other large retailers will join Holland & Barrett on their mission to make the high street a more environmentally-conscious place.”