Water companies declare war on 'flushable' wet wipes


Parents, environmental groups and water companies have gone to war against the makers of so called "flushable" wet wipes, which are clogging up the nation's toilets, drains and sewers.

A report has been presented to the Advertising Standards Authority that calls for a ban on the word "flushable" on the wipes, which do not break down like conventional toilet paper after going down the U-bend.

The complaint, which comes after the Government confirmed plans to ban microbeads in cosmetic goods, is being led by Wessex Water and backed by City to Sea, Surfers Against Sewage, Marine Conservation Society and Litter Free Coast and Sea.

Wessex Water said it was called to resolve more than 13,000 blockages every year on the public sewer system in its region alone. In addition, there are thousands more blockages on customers' own drains each year.

The firm said by far the biggest offenders are wet wipes, which are often branded as flushable - but were responsible for more than two thirds of blockages in the West Country last year.

Dealing with wipes has become a full-time job for water companies, and Wessex Water this week released video footage of the grim blockages one of its staff encountered in the space of a few hours.

The company has already written to supermarkets and manufacturers, urging them to market the products more responsibly, and it regularly urges its customers to "love your loo" by only flushing the three Ps - paper, poo and pee.

Matt Wheeldon, director of assets and compliance for Bath-based Wessex Water, said: "We frequently hear from customers who have flushed wipes which have then caused a blockage.

"As a result, they have had their garden flooded with sewage and, in worst case scenarios, their homes flooded.

"These wipes are marketed as flushable but often we find they simply don't break down and cause blockages."

Environmental charities Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society - plus Litter Free Coast and Sea and City2Sea - have also signed the letter to the ASA, which calls for an end to "misleading" branding and packaging.

"Some manufacturers claim their products meet 'flushability protocols', yet the reality is that they have made up these protocols themselves - not the sewerage companies who have the horrible job of unblocking the sewers," said Mr Wheeldon.

"The unequivocal evidence is that wet wipes simply don't break down quickly enough, despite claims that they do.

"Spend just a few hours with our sewerage crews, who work every day helping distressed customers who have blockages in their homes, and you will see for yourself the problems they cause."