Retailer bans wet wipes in UK & Ireland

Holland & Barrett has announced a complete ban on the sale of all wet wipe products from its 800 UK and Ireland stores, with all wet wipe products and variants replaced by environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives by end of September 2019.

Millions of wet-wipes are sold in the UK every year, with uses spanning make-up removal and hand sanitisers to surface cleaners. But according to the EarthWatch Institute and Plastic Oceans UK, 9.3million wipes are still flushed down toilets in the UK every single day, making their way to the world’s oceans, rivers and sewage systems, damaging marine life and creating huge costs for consumers from sewer blockages. 

This is why the UK’s leading ethical health and wellness retailer has announced that all 34 products in its wet wipe range are being delisted and will be gone from all 800 UK and Ireland stores and all participating international stores by end of September 2019.

It is the first high street retailer to implement such a ban and it is calling on other retailers to follow suit and make a major difference to the volume of wet wipes polluting the world’s oceans and rivers and clogging up sewage systems across the country.

In the UK, the popular products are blamed for 80% of blockages in our sewers, costing an estimated £100 million a year to clear. Internationally, the problem is much bigger with wet wipe demand growing to $13.5 billion in 2018.  

While there are some new types of biodegradable wipes that are described as flushable and compostable, both Friends of the Earth and Water UK, the industry body, warn that these won’t degrade quickly enough to avoid being a menace down drains or in our rivers.  

The vast majority of wet wipes are not biodegradable, so those that do escape sewage filters have an even greater environmental impact, finishing their journey in oceans or washing up on beaches. Traditional wet wipes are made of polyester and contain millions of chemical microfibres. Once in water, these fibres are released and cause death and destruction to a host of marine species. 

Jo Ruxton, founder of Plastic Oceans Foundation, the first plastic pollution NGO in the UK that addresses the impact plastic pollution has on our oceans, strongly supports Holland and Barrett’s decision and said:“From our campaigning work since 2009 and film A Plastic Ocean, we have shown the damage that plastic pollution is doing to our oceans.  Single use plastic items represent a major part of this problem and this destruction will soon be irreversible if the world doesn’t make a change. We are delighted that Holland and Barrett are taking a clear lead on sustainability by banning one of the problem products we see in our rivers and oceans - single use, disposable wet wipes - which use the world’s precious resources to manufacture, still come in plastic packaging, and still get flushed down the loo or thrown in the bin.  We hope that other large retailers will join Holland & Barrett on their mission to make the high-street a more environmentally-conscious place.”

Holland & Barrett will remove its entire range and replace them with sustainable, waste-free and re-usable alternatives such as double-sided cotton cloths, unbleached cotton muslin cloths, cotton pads and an exfoliating mitt. 

In May 2018, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced its plan to eliminate plastic waste by 2042, to include wet-wipes. However, they are now considering improved labelling on wet wipe disposal instead, a move which the brand feels doesn’t go far enough. 

Holland & Barrett believes that as there are effective and sustainable alternatives to non-biodegradable wet wipes, it would help safeguard marine life and put an end to costly sewer blockages if the Government reverted to its original decision to review and include wet wipes in its 2042 plastic elimination programme. 

Joanne Cooke, Head of Beauty at Holland & Barrett, explained: “There is a growing awareness of how much our current throwaway culture is damaging our oceans, beaches and rivers. We want to encourage our customers to think about what they currently throw away and encourage them to swap to more sustainable alternatives. The quickest way for us all to make a positive impact on the world we live in is to choose to spend our money on more sustainable products.”

In recent months, the true extent of wet wipes’ impact on water systems has only been further highlighted in the discovery of multiple ‘Fatbergs’; congealed masses, made up of predominantly (93%) wet wipes, were found in sewage systems across the nation, with one in Devon taking more than eight weeks to remove.