Wet wipes containing plastic are no longer sold in the UK

London: Wet wipes containing plastic will no longer be sold in Britain after legislation will soon be introduced in Parliament, the British government announced on Monday as the world declared Earth Day.

UK Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will bring forward the legislation for England before Parliament’s summer recess in July.

The devolved regions of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are expected to move forward with legislation later this year to make it a UK ban as part of a coordinated approach.

“Wet wipes containing plastic pollute our waterways and release microplastics into the environment,” Barclay said.

“Defra will introduce legislation to tackle this unnecessary source of pollution before the summer recess, following our successful levy on single-use carrier bags and the ban on microbeads in personal care products… Plastic-free wet wipes are readily available, and several retailers have is has already stopped selling wet wipes that contain plastic,” he said.

The minister said it was part of a “step change” needed to protect the country’s waterways from pollution.

“The ban builds on a range of measures already in place to protect our waterways and hold water companies to account – including accelerating investment, reducing environmental fines for water companies and quadrupling the number of inspections of water company sites water companies,” he added.

According to DEFRA’s Beach Litter Monitoring Data for 2015-2020, an average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100 meters of beach surveyed in the UK.

Once in the aquatic environment, wet wipes containing plastic can accumulate biological and chemical contaminants, increasing the risk of harm to the animals and humans who come into contact with them.

Banning them is expected to reduce plastic and microplastic pollution and reduce the amount of microplastics entering wastewater treatment plants when improperly flushed.

The ban follows a public consultation on the issue, which showed overwhelming support for such a move.

The law will be introduced through secondary legislation under the UK Environmental Protection Act 1990, with 95 percent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the proposals.

From the moment the legislation is adopted, an 18-month transition period will begin so that companies can prepare. Following consultation with industry, the ban will not include the manufacture of these products, in line with other recent bans on single-use plastics.

“Boots last year removed all wet wipes containing plastic from sale in stores and online as part of our long-standing commitment to sustainability and our work with suppliers and customers to reduce the use of plastic,” said Steve Ager, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer at Boots, one of the UK’s largest retailers of such products.

“We are pleased to see the government taking action now, as a ban on all wet wipes containing plastic will have a much greater impact than retailers taking action alone,” Ager said.

The government said it will continue to encourage manufacturers to move towards a position where all their wet wipes are plastic-free.

Some exceptions will be considered to ensure that wet wipes containing plastic remain available where there is no viable alternative, such as for medical disinfection purposes. DEFRA said it will regularly review the need for these exemptions.

Earth Day is an annual event held on April 22 to show support for environmental protection.

(Published April 22, 2024, 10:54 am IST)