Guest blog by Dr Peter Matthews, past president of CIWEM and former chair of Natural Resources Wales

Government is currently calling for evidence on commonly littered and problematic plastic items. In line with its stated commitment to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042 it is consulting on bans on a range of single-use plastics. It wants to go further and consider other items which often escape waste management systems and end up in the environment, whether in water or on the land.

The impact of sewage-borne litter not only on the environment, but also on water company operational costs and activities, not to mention amenity value, is significant and an issue high up the public consciousness.

In particular there is intense interest in the presence of used personal care products in sewage. These cause sewer blockages, and environmental litter and sewage pollution from storm overflows, as highlighted in the recent Environmental Audit Committee Report ‘Water Quality in Rivers’.

Further detail of the types of products found, the physical problems they cause, and the actions which have been taken by the water companies so far is set out in a personal thought piece by past CIWEM President Peter Matthews.

This essay considers some of the behavioural issues which have prevented this challenge from being confronted properly to date. It argues that the current messaging is confusing and the labelling of products is poor. Is ‘bag it and bin it’ or ‘fine to flush’ the most important message to get over to the public.

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