Water firm calls for mandatory ‘do not flush’ labels on wet wipes

Yorkshire Water said it is spending “millions” on clearing blockages caused by wipes, even those labelled as “fine to flush”.

16 June 2022

One of the UK’s biggest water companies has called for mandatory ‘do not flush’ labelling on wet wipes as it spends “millions” on clearing blockages.

Yorkshire Water said current labelling on the products – particularly baby and toilet wipes – leaves consumers confused over how to correctly dispose of them.

The firm said many consumers believe wipes without a ‘fine to flush’ label can be flushed, especially if they are labelled as ‘biodegradable’.

Wet wipe confusion
A section of fatberg being removed from a sewer (Yorkshire Water/PA)

However, it warned that neither ‘biodegradable’ nor ‘fine to flush’ products break down in the sewer network and can cause significant issues in the system.

Such blockages can lead to restricted toilet use for customers, sewage escapes into properties and gardens and in some cases pollution in local watercourses.

A large proportion of the 11 billion wet wipes used in the UK every year still contain some form of plastic, according to the Marine Conservation Society, and evidence suggests they are the cause of more than nine in 10 blockages in UK sewers.

Ben Roche, director of wastewater at Yorkshire Water, said: “Consumers are currently faced with an array of different logos and claims on packets of wet wipes, including ‘fine to flush’, ‘do not flush’ and ‘biodegradable’ labels.

“Those labelled ‘fine to flush’ often indicate only one wipe should be flushed at a time, but often this is not followed or understood by customers.

“Even then, these wipes generally contain plastic so do not break down in the sewer as toilet roll does.

“Clearly there needs to be a standard message across all wet wipe packaging and we are calling for mandatory ‘do not flush’ messaging to avoid the confusion consumers currently experience when buying all types of wipes.”

Mr Roche added: “We are also calling on the Government to extend the responsibility to manufacturers to cover cost of educating customers about correct methods of disposal, and clean-up costs resulting from incorrect disposal.

“We continue to spend millions of pounds every year to resolve blockages caused by wet wipes and sanitary items, as well as running public awareness campaigns on the correct way to dispose.

“We have seen some retailers begin to act on this issue, banning all plastic-containing wipes, and we would urge others to do the same.”

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