Wet wipes or single-use non-woven wipes have become the convenient way to clean. We use them to clean our babies, our faces, our kitchens, and a multitude of other things.
Hygiene and personal care accounts for 44% of their use across Europe, with only 3% coming from surgical or medical use (source: Friends of the Earth).
One of the major US manufacturers of wipes produces 125 billion a year. That’s enough to stretch to the moon and back 24 times. It’s estimated we use around 11 billion in the UK each year.
Single-use wipes are a quick and convenient way to clean. Once they’ve been used, we throw them in the bin or flush them down the loo and don’t give them a second thought. But what happens after we’ve got rid of them?
If wipes are flushed down the loo, they end up in the sewerage system and then they can find their way onto beaches and into our oceans. If they’re put in the bin, they end up in landfill sites. It’s thought it can take 500 years for most wipes to biodegrade.
According to the Marine Conservation Society, an average of 18 wet wipes were found for every 100 metres of coastline they cleaned and surveyed. This made them the third most common litter item on UK beaches in 2020.
Harmful to marine life
When wipes find their way into our oceans, it causes problems for marine life. Bigger chunks of wipes are a choking hazard to wildlife. Then, as they break down into smaller pieces, they spread into waterways and become entangled in the marine environment. Marine animals then ingest them as they feed making them ill which can ultimately kill them.
Friends of the Earth reported that wet wipes are the major cause of fatbergs in sewers across the world. These are formed from wipes that stick to grease and other gunk to form the masses. They block sewers and are difficult to get rid of.
Wipes were the main cause (90%) of sewer blockages investigated by Water UK in 2017. River cleaning teams found that hundreds of thousands had formed into a new riverbed in the Thames from wipes flushed down toilets in London.
So, what’s the solution?
Switching to reusable wipes, even for a few days a week, has a huge positive impact on the volume of waste being pumped into our oceans and dumped in landfill sites. They can be used for everything you’d use a single wipe for such as cleaning your baby or removing make-up.
You can use the wipes on their own and wet them each time. Or, have some pre-prepared in a container. Simply add several wipes to the box, some water, and a couple of drops of diluted essential oil. Then you’ll have sweet-smelling wet wipes at your fingertips.
Once you’ve used them, they’re washable at up to 40 degrees so can be used time and time again. So once you’ve bought your initial wipes, they’ll soon save you money. Plus, there’s no need to worry about running out.
Using single-use wipes because they’re cheaper is a false economy. Take wet wipes for example. A box of 12, 52 wipe packets costs around £10. If you’ve got a young baby, you can easily get through a packet every couple of days. So, on average, that’s probably a box of 12 every 3 or 4 weeks.
Reusable wipes start at around £12 for 10. So, if you bought three packets to make sure you’ve got enough spares, that’s £36.
Over a year, if you bought a box of single-use wipes a month, you’re spending £120. If you bought 30 reusable wipes, it’s £36. That’s quite a saving. And it’s not just the impact it has on your finances. The impact of changing to reusable wipes for the environment is huge.
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