Thames21 welcomes Government’s plan to ban plastic in wet wipes

Environmental charity Thames21 has welcomed the Government’s plan to ban the sale of wet wipes containing plastic, calling it a monumental victory for the health of the River Thames, people and wildlife.

The charity has been campaigning to ban plastic in wet wipes for many years. It has worked with volunteers to build evidence, told the story to the media, engaged with the Government and worked with partners to push for change.

Sewage-based wet wipes made with plastic fibres have been entering the river through sewage pipes after they have been flushed down the toilet. As they don’t break up like tissue paper when flushed, they mount up on the foreshores of slow-moving parts of the river after sewage overflows dump them into the water and form ‘‘wet wipe islands’ which have caused a negative impact for wildlife and for people.

Studies have shown that many fish in the river have plastic fibres clogging up their digestive systems.

Thames21 CEO Chris Coode said: “This significant news is a testament to the power of collective action and the unwavering dedication of our volunteers, team and partners. This victory is a crucial step towards protecting the health of the River Thames and its wildlife, as it will help to stop the introduction of microplastics into the environment. However, we realise that it is not the panacea and there is more work to be done.

“Manufacturers now need to create plastic-free alternatives.

“Water companies must invest further in our sewage infrastructure so that it relies less on sewage overflows and install more screens to prevent wet wipes entering the environment;

“Consumers need to dispose of their non-plastic-based wet wipes correctly; bin it don’t flush it!

“We extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported us in this journey – your contributions have been instrumental in achieving this landmark success.”

Since 2017, Thames21 has partnered up with citizen scientists, the Port of London Authority (PLA) and Tideway, the company building London’s super sewer, via its Thames River Watch programme to run its Big Wet Wipe Count event and gather crucial people-powered data on the wet wipes settling at sampling locations along the Thames to monitor the impact of plastic on the capital’s river and lobby for change. More than 135,000 wet wipes have been collected since 2017 via its Big Wet Wipe Count.

PLA’s Chief Executive, Robin Mortimer, said: “This is a brilliant achievement and step forward in our shared vision of a cleaner river with a healthy eco-system in which rich biodiversity can thrive.

“Tackling micro-plastics at source is key part of our Clean Thames Manifesto, launched last year, and we’d like to thank Thames 21 and all the supporters involved in helping make this ban on plastic wet wipes a reality.”

John Sage, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Tideway, said: “The Thames River Watch programme highlighted the scale of the problem of wet wipes and other plastic pollution in the Thames – and this ban, which follows so much campaigning work by Thames21, is fantastic news for the health of UK waterways.

“The super sewer will prevent wet wipes and other sewage-derived litter from entering the Thames in the first place when it starts its testing phase later this year, which is a further reason for optimism.”

Thames21 has also partnered with Octopus Group for the past three years, as part of the Group’s charity partnership initiative. Octopus worked with the charity to help secure today’s result.

Octopus Group Co-Founder and CEO Simon Rogerson said: “The Government’s ban on wet wipes is fantastic news, addressing the cause of so much environmental damage.

“Over the past three years Octopus employees and our charitable foundation, Octopus Giving, have been working hand in hand with Thames21, the leading waterways charity dedicated to putting healthy rivers back at the heart of the community.

“Today’s ban is testament to the hard work from both organisations and is a great example of what can be achieved when companies are able to offer expertise and not simply money to charitable causes.

“We’re hugely proud of the team at Thames21 and the impact their charity has had on our environment.”