The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) plans to help tackle the scourge of wet wipes entering waterways.
It will work with the water and manufacturing industries to better understand which types of wet wipes are involved in sewer blockages, and improve labelling of wet wipes so the public understand what can and cannot be flushed.
While eliminating single-use plastic waste is one of the government’s top priorities as outlined in its 25-year Environment Plan, it has not announced plans to ban wet wipes.
“Our focus for wet wipes is to work with manufacturers and water companies to develop a product that does not contain plastic and can be safely flushed,” said a spokesperson for Defra. “We are also continuing to work with industry to make sure labelling on the packaging of these products is clear and people know how to dispose of them properly.”
The news has been welcomed by water companies, which hope it will raise awareness of the problems caused by flushing products such as wet wipes.
Water UK – the representative body for the water industry – estimates that around £100 million each year is spent clearing sewer blockages. In December, the group published a report revealing wet wipes cause around 90 per cent of these.
Wessex Water director of assets and compliance Matt Wheeldon said: “We welcome news that the government seems committed to dealing with the growing problem of wet wipes and recognises the impact that these plastic-containing materials are having on our environment.
“The way some of these products are marketed is misleading, which is why we took up the fight on behalf of our customers by lodging complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards.
“Let’s hope this move by the government will not only help to remove this source of pollution but also end the daily misery and expense to our customers who have had their homes flooded with sewage as a result of wet wipe blockages.”
All of the UK water companies have launched campaigns designed to raise awareness of the problems with flushing single-use products such as wet wipes.
Last month, a documentary titled “Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers” aired on Channel 4. The programme, featuring Thames Water, showed the first scientific autopsy of a five-tonne “fatberg”, taken from a trunk sewer under Blackfriars Road.
Large parts of the show were filmed on location with Thames Water, waste partners Lanes Group and other experts at Abbey Mills sewage pumping station and in London’s sewers.
Thames Water said it invented the word “fatberg” to bring the serious problem of sewer abuse to life. The firm estimates that blockages cost it £1 million a month to clear.