Wipes in the Thames

Laser scans show devastating impact of wet wipes on the River Thames

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 25 November 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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River charity Thames21 has released data showing that, over the last six years, a mound created by wet wipes has grown to the size of two tennis courts and over a metre tall.
 
High-resolution sonar and laser scans of the Thames riverbed in west London have been collected along the River Thames in Hammersmith as part of work to build London’s new super sewer, which will tackle 95% of sewage overflows that currently pollute the river.

Wet wipe damage

While the super sewer will help reduce the amount of sewage entering the river, environmental campaigners are reminding people of the damage wet wipes can do and the importance of keeping them out of the sewage network.

A Ten-Minute Rule Bill, proposed by Fleur Anderson MP (Labour Putney) and with all-party support, would outlaw the use of plastic in wet wipes. The Bill is due to have its second reading tomorrow (26 November).

‘We use 11 billion wet wipes every year in the UK and 90% of them contain plastic. Flushing the odd wet wipe may not seem like a big deal, but there are 300,000 blockages every year in our sewers. Since my ‘Ban plastic in Wet Wipes’ Ten-Minute Rule Bill had its first reading on Tuesday 2 November, I have been blown away by the amount of coverage and cross-party support the campaign has received.’

FLEUR ANDERSON
MP, Labour Putney

London’s new super sewer

When wet wipes, currently usually made of plastic, get into the Thames, they bind with natural sediment to create large mounds. Literally changing the contours of the river, this pollution poses a growing threat to the river’s flourishing wildlife.
 
Tideway regularly carries out surveys of the riverbed and foreshore as part of its work to build London’s new super sewer, due to be completed in 2025.

Impact of wet wipes on the Thames
Impact of wet wipes on the Thames

‘We know many busy families love the convenience of wet wipes, but most are made from plastic and can take centuries to biodegrade. It’s like flushing a plastic bag down the loo.   
 
‘Some wipes are marketed as ‘flushable’. All that means is that they will disappear down the u-bend, but they’re not gone for good and could end up clogging your pipes or in the river. We’re working to influence manufacturers to properly label their products and, even better, to remove the plastic from the wipes altogether. If you’re using standard wet wipes, please pop them in the bin instead of the toilet.   
 
‘We’re also working with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop these unacceptable discharges of untreated sewage and sewage litter from happening in the first place.’

ANNA BOYLES
Thames Water’s operations manager

Tideway supports Thames21’s Thames River Watch programme, which monitors plastic pollution in the Thames. In September, Thames21 volunteers logged 27,400 wet wipes at Battersea Bridge in just two days.

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