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UK Launches Consultation to Ban Plastic-Containing Wet Wipes in Effort to Combat Plastic Pollution

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The United Kingdom has taken a significant step towards addressing plastic pollution by launching a public consultation aimed at prohibiting the production, distribution, and sale of wet wipes containing plastic. This initiative, announced on October 14, 2023, is part of the UK government’s comprehensive plan to improve water quality and reduce plastic pollution in waterways.

Wet wipes that incorporate plastic components are known to disintegrate into microplastics over time, posing a dual threat to the environment and human health. Banning such products would help mitigate these environmental risks and reduce the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment facilities when inappropriately disposed of by flushing.

Several major brands, including Boots, Tesco, and Aldi, have already removed plastic-containing wet wipes from their product offerings. The proposed ban seeks to build on these efforts by making exclusively plastic-free wet wipes accessible to consumers.

This ban on plastic-containing wet wipes represents a key aspect of the UK Government’s broader Plan for Water, which is focused on enhancing water quality, strengthening regulations, and enforcing stricter environmental standards. By addressing the issue of plastic pollution, the government aims to safeguard waterways and promote the responsible use and disposal of products that can harm the environment.

The public consultation on banning plastic-containing wet wipes is being conducted jointly with the devolved administrations. It aims to gauge public sentiment and gather input on the potential ban, which has garnered considerable support from the public. A Call for Evidence conducted in 2021 in England revealed that 96% of respondents favored such a ban.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey emphasized the need to address plastic pollution in waterways, noting that wet wipes containing plastic are not only unnecessary but also harmful to the environment. She stated that the government’s commitment to reducing plastic pollution is demonstrated by this move, which follows the ban on microbeads in personal care products and the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022.

The Water UK Chief Executive, David Henderson, welcomed the government’s plan to ban plastic-containing wet wipes. He highlighted the detrimental impact of flushing these wipes, which can lead to fatbergs and blockages, causing overflow spills into rivers and flooding homes and businesses.

Natalie Gourlay, Head of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) at Boots UK, expressed her support for the government’s actions, citing Boots’ removal of wet wipes containing plastic from their stores earlier in the year. She emphasized the shared responsibility of businesses and individuals in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability.

The UK Government has previously enacted measures to address plastic pollution, including the ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax, which imposes a tax on plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. Additionally, the successful single-use carrier bag charge has significantly reduced plastic bag consumption in supermarkets since its inception in 2015.

Today’s announcement builds on the Environment Secretary’s efforts to address the labeling of wet wipes as ‘flushable.’ Wet wipes are a major contributor to sewer blockages, resulting in property damage and sewage-related litter in the environment. The government supports Water UK’s ‘Bin the Wipe’ campaign, aligning with the commitments outlined in the Plan for Water.

The consultation, which seeks public input on the proposed ban, will remain open for six weeks, concluding on November 25, 2023. It underscores the UK’s commitment to reducing plastic pollution and its determination to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

Source: Gov[Dot]UK

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