Plastic Wet Wipe Ban Announcement Welcomed

Thames 21 describes it as a major boost to the health of the river

Thames 21 volunteers deal with wet wipes near Hammersmith Bridge. Picture: Thames 21

April 25, 2024

This Monday (22 April) saw the government announce the results of a consultation on wet wipes which has determined that a ban on those containing plastic will be introduced by Defra in England before the summer recess.

The news was welcome by environmental charity, Thames 21, that had long campaigned for the move as its volunteers faced the challenge of dealing with the impact of non-biodegradable wipes on the river foreshore.

It called the sale ban ‘a monumental victory for the health of the River Thames, people and wildlife.

Wet wipes made with plastic fibres have been entering the river through sewage pipes after they have been flushed down the toilet. As they don’t break up like tissue paper when flushed, they mount up on the foreshores of slow-moving parts of the river after sewage overflows dump them into the water and form ‘‘wet wipe islands’ which have caused a negative impact for wildlife and for people. Studies have shown that many fish in the river have plastic fibres clogging up their digestive systems.

Thames21 CEO Chris Coode said, “This significant news is a testament to the power of collective action and the unwavering dedication of our volunteers, team and partners. This victory is a crucial step towards protecting the health of the River Thames and its wildlife, as it will help to stop the introduction of microplastics into the environment. However, we realise that it is not the panacea and there is more work to be done. Manufacturers now need to create plastic-free alternatives.

“Water companies must invest further in our sewage infrastructure so that it relies less on sewage overflows and install more screens to prevent wet wipes entering the environment;

“Consumers need to dispose of their non-plastic-based wet wipes correctly; bin it don’t flush it!

“We extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported us in this journey – your contributions have been instrumental in achieving this landmark success.”

The charity singled out Fleur Anderson MP for Putney, Justine Duggan at Octopus Group and the Port of London Authority and Tideway for their support of the campaign.

Fleur Anderson said, "Better late than never, I am delighted that the Government has backed my campaign to ban plastic in wet wipes and is now making it law. After three long years of campaigning, two Parliamentary Bills, two drawn-out consultations, and endless hours meeting manufacturers, retailers, water companies, and even counting wet wipes piled up on the Thames foreshore, the Government is finally backing my common-sense environmental campaign, at last. I am delighted by this success, but we can’t celebrate properly yet – we need this Government to go further and faster on reducing the harm plastics are causing our environment, and this could be more empty promises with no action."

"The move from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commits to bringing forward the legislation ahead of summer Parliamentary recess, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following 'by the autumn as part of an aligned approach to bring the ban into force.'

Since 2017, Thames21 has partnered up with citizen scientists, the Port of London Authority (PLA) and Tideway, the company building London’s super sewer, via its Thames River Watch programme to run its Big Wet Wipe Count event and gather data on the wet wipes settling at sampling locations along the Thames to monitor the impact of plastic on the capital’s river. More than 135,000 wet wipes have been collected since 2017 via its Big Wet Wipe Count.

PLA’s Chief Executive, Robin Mortimer, added, “This is a brilliant achievement and step forward in our shared vision of a cleaner river with a healthy eco-system in which rich biodiversity can thrive.

“Tackling micro-plastics at source is key part of our Clean Thames Manifesto, launched last year, and we’d like to thank Thames 21 and all the supporters involved in helping make this ban on plastic wet wipes a reality.”

John Sage, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Tideway, said, “The Thames River Watch programme highlighted the scale of the problem of wet wipes and other plastic pollution in the Thames – and this ban, which follows so much campaigning work by Thames21, is fantastic news for the health of UK waterways.

“The super sewer will prevent wet wipes and other sewage-derived litter from entering the Thames in the first place when it starts its testing phase later this year, which is a further reason for optimism.”

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