Sonar and laser scans have shown that there is an island of wet wipes the size of two tennis courts with a depth of over a metre in certain places, near Hammersmith Bridge in West London. This island is changing the course of the River Thames and if action isn’t taken soon the island will continue to grow in size.
The wet wipes get into the River Thames as people flush them down the toilet instead of putting them in a bin. Thames Water carried out a survey to see how many people were guilty of flushing them down the loo. There results were shocking as two in five people admitted that they didn’t dispose of their wet wipes properly.
Not only are these wet wipes changing the course of the river, but they are also polluting it. Most wet wipes contain plastic and plastic takes roughly 100 years to break down fully. As they do break down, they release microplastics. These are incredibly harmful to the aquatic life that resides in the Thames. Even before they begin breaking down, they are dangerous to marine life as they are swallowed by fish, which results in them dying. If this continues, it could have a long-term damaging effect on the ecosystem of the river.
In 2021, Labour MP, Fleur Anderson, addressed the House of Commons and urged our government to ban the sale and use of wet wipes that contain plastics. The UK Government are now considering a ban that should hopefully stop wet wipes from building up in waterways and plumbing systems.
There are around 30,000 blockages in the UK due to wet wipes as people flush them down the toilet causing numerous plumbing problems. There are only a few specific wipes that are flushable, however it is advised that you never flush a wet wipe down the toilet.
One of the biggest issues faced in sewage systems are fatbergs, and 90% of their structure is made from wet wipes. If people stopped flushing these wipes down the toilet there would be a significant decrease in fatberg build up.
There are groups of people that are trying to remove the wipes from the River Thames. In 2021, volunteers with Thames21, an environmental charity, removed 21,000 wet wipes from near Battersea Bridge in only two days, another area that is at risk of a wet wipe island being created.
Beauty and Health retailer, Boots, has pledged to stop the sale of wet wipes that contain plastic by the end of the year. Other substitutes for plastic are already available, this includes bamboo that is used in reusable products such as face wipes and toothbrushes.