The UK Government, Welsh Government, Scottish Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for Northern Ireland are seeking views on a proposed ban on the manufacture, supply and sale of wet wipes containing plastic. The proposed ban, subject to consultation outcomes, would be applied by individual countries in the UK and be implemented via their own legislative mechanisms.
Wet wipes containing plastic break down into microplastics over time, which can be harmful to the environment and human health. Banning these products would help alleviate this issue, as well as reducing the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment plants when wrongly flushed. Defra has said the proposed ban will tackle plastic pollution in marine environment and reduce microplastics entering wastewater treatment plants.
The consultation comes in response to public calls for action to tackle plastic pollution in waterways, and widespread support for the proposed ban.
Scottish Government Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said:
“This is very welcome progress towards a goal we all want to achieve: tackling plastic pollution. Wet wipes containing plastic are an avoidable and yet a growing source of beach litter. They are unsightly; they pose risks to the environment and wildlife; and annually they contribute to around 36,000 sewer system blockages in Scotland, risking flooding and costing approximately £7 million to clear.”
Defra Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:
“Wet wipes containing plastic are unnecessary and are polluting our environment. The consultation delivers on Defra’s commitments set out in the Plan for Water this year to launch a public consultation on the ban and work with industry to ensure plastic-free alternatives are widely available, with some retailers already taking action.”
Wet wipes contribute to up to 94% of sewer blockages, which can lead to damage to properties and can result in sewage-related litter entering the environment.
There are already existing alternatives to wet wipes containing plastic. Major brands are already removing plastic from wet wipes. Boots, Tesco and Aldi are among the major retailers that have already stopped selling wet wipes containing plastic. The ban would build on this action from retailers to make only plastic-free wet wipes available to consumers.
The consultation will run until 25th November 2023.