Wet wipes are the height of convenience. They clean and sanitize in one fell swoop and then are easily tossed away. They’re a parent’s dream product, and for parents of children with hygiene challenges, they’re a must-have. But a new proposal to ban them in the United Kingdom has parents worried how they’ll get along without them.
Keeley Godwin from Audenshaw, England, has two sons with autism, and says that her six-year-old son, Harvey, relies on wet wipes after he uses the restroom as he doesn’t like the feel of toilet paper. “Wet wipes are a must in this household,” she says.
Another British mom, Mandy Mattison, said: “Personally I’d miss them. I’ve a disabled son who wears nappies [diapers] so cleaning him up would be a nightmare without them – but I always bin them.”
A recent statement from the UK’s Department for Environmental, Food, And Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that wet wipes will be banned along with other avoidable plastic waste within the next 25 years. Wet wipes are immensely popular in the UK, and there are now wet wipes specifically for babies, for makeup removal, for applying deodorant, and even as an alternative to toilet paper. Some wipes are biodegradable, but most contain polyester and other materials that won’t break down.
Wet wipes that get flushed down the toilet instead of put into the garbage (“binned” in the UK) are changing the shape of the Thames River, and more than 5,000 wipes were recently recovered from a part of the river in West London. Wipes get into the river from sewage overflow pipes.
How bad is it?
Wet wipes are so small that it’s hard to imagine them creating a big environmental impact, at least as compared to other contaminants. But they are the cause of 93 percent of the UK’s sewer blockages, and the key ingredient in sewer-blocking “fatbergs.”
A fatberg is a giant conglomeration of garbage that creates a sewer blockage and is partially made up of fat and grease. But fatbergs are actually made up of about 93 percent wet wipes. The rest is made of feminine hygiene products, cotton pads, and plastic wrappers, with a very small contribution from toilet paper and fat and grease products.
Jeremy Freedman, a managing director for a wet-wipe manufacturer, argues that the wipes are biodegradable, require less water than traditional washing, and are important for people with hygiene challenges. “These wipes are critical to their lifestyle,” he says. He also noted that the wipes were absolutely not flushable.
Parents on Twitter felt they were paying for the mistakes of others. Here are a few of their thoughts:
- @julesmargo: “Essential item for new mums though – in fact for most of us! If only people wouldn’t flush them down the loo… There must be a good biodegradable brand?”
- @foodallergyUK: “What is an allergy mama to DO???”
- @CondurJ: “In the news ‘wet wipes to be phased out’ due to creation of fatbergs etc. I have two children and have never flushed a baby wipe or anything like it. People…”
- “There are disabled people that need easier hygiene products though. I have friends that need these.” (Handle not available).)
Other commenters agreed that wet wipes are convenient, but that they support anything that will promote a cleaner environment.
The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to eliminating unnecessary plastic waste by 2042. That’s all well and good, but the harder decisions will come when deciding which plastics count as unnecessary and which are essential. For parents of children with autism, and parents in general, wet wipes may be especially hard to give up.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.