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High street retailers scrutinised over environmental impact of wet wipes

Photo issued by the Marine Conservation Society of a wet wipe on a beach in Hayle circa March 2015. High street retailers need to take action to stem the tide of wet wipes ending up on the UK's beaches, campaigners say.

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

High street retailers need to take action to stem the tide of wet wipes ending up on the UK’s beaches, campaigners say.

Environmentalists are calling for a ban on plastic wet wipes and the guarantee that anything that gets flushed will break down and not add to the “plastic soup in our seas”.

As well as being unsightly additions to the UK’s beaches, flushed wet wipes can contribute to fatbergs and microplastic pollution in the sea.

Volunteers combing the coastline last year found an average of 18 wet wipes per 100 metres, making them the third most common litter item on UK beaches in 2020.

The Marine Conservation Society says retailers are falling behind in testing, labelling and removing plastic from own brand wet wipes

According to its 2020 wet wipe survey, released on Wednesday, Aldi is the only UK retailer to have certified all its own brand flushable wipes against the “Fine to Flush” standard.

This means the wipes have been stringently tested to ensure they break down in the UK’s sewer system.

Boots, Morrison’s, Tesco and Waitrose have committed to having Fine to Flush status by June 2021 while Asda, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug and Wilko are yet to make a commitment to meet the summer deadline, the charity said.

Health and beauty retailer Superdrug have stated that they have no plans to test for Fine to Flush, the charity added.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Our research has shown that, unfortunately, retailers simply aren’t doing enough.

“Without firm commitments, legislation is going to be needed to make sure that Fine to Flush is mandatory.”

As part of its survey the Marine Conservation Society also assessed retailers’ commitments to remove plastic from their non-flushable wet wipes.

Boots, Waitrose and Wilko are the only retailers to have already removed plastic from their wipes, while others have committed to doing so by the end of this year.

The only retailers not to have committed to removing plastic from non-flushable wet wipes by the end of the year are Aldi, Asda, Co-op and Lidl, the charity reports.

Dr Foster added: “By removing plastic from wet wipes we can move further away from our reliance on single-use plastics.

“Wet wipes should be considered similarly to items like cotton bud sticks and straws which are, in the most part, avoidable.

“That’s why UK Governments need to ban plastic wet wipes and ensure that only products which have passed the Fine to Flush standard can be sold as flushable – ensuring that anything that gets flushed will break down and not contribute to the plastic soup in our seas.”

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