Wet wipes containing plastic form “islands” across the UK after being washed away, with rivers changing shape after products pile up on their banks, MPs have heard as legislation aimed at banning their sale , had its first reading in the House of Commons.
Labor MP Fleur Anderson’s law on plastics (wet wipes) would ban the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastic if it were to pass through parliament and receive royal approval.
But as a private member’s bill, it’s unlikely to become law without state support, even though Downing Street has signaled it is committed to stopping the ‘throwaway culture’.
During the first reading, MEPs were told that Britain needs to ban wet wipes containing plastic because the scale of the problem caused by rinsing “is so great, so harmful and rising so fast”.
They also heard that sea creatures are dying, while Britons may be eating a “credit card plastic” due to microplastic fragments from the discarded hygiene products.
“As a mother of four, I have used a lot of wet wipes, and I fully understand the pressure parents are under and how useful wet wipes are,” Anderson said.
“I know parents also want to do the right thing for the environment.”
But she added that 90% of the 11 billion wet wipes used in the UK each year contain some form of plastic which, when broken down, turns into microplastics that can be ingested by wildlife and enter the food chain and water supply.
She added that the problem was growing, with Great British Beach Clean reportedly seeing an increase from 1.7 wet wipes per day. average 100 m beach for 18 wet wipes between 2005 and 2020.
Anderson told the Commons: “When these plastics enter our local marine environment and water systems in such large quantities, the damage is devastating. Worldwide, 100 million animals die each year from plastic waste alone.
She also cited data from the World Wildlife Fund, which suggested that people eat about five grams of plastic a week, which she described as “literally eating plastic for a credit card worth every week”, claiming that wet wipes were a “big cause” for this” .
The MP told of a recent visit to the Thames, where huge piles of wet wipes on the river banks had changed how it flowed, and even described seeing a “wet wipe island” in the river.
Brands like Holland & Barrett and Body Shop had already committed to selling only plastic-free napkins, which are usually made from bamboo or other plant fibers, Anderson said.
She said a “larger scale of production” of plastic-free napkins could be promoted by the ban, making the alternative cheaper.
“We need legislation because the scale of the problem is so great, so damaging and growing so fast,” Anderson said.
The bill will be considered again on Friday 19 November.
A No. 10 spokesman said the 25-year environmental plan sets out “an obligation to eliminate avoided plastic waste”.