Wet wipes are incredibly convenient. Strong, absorbent, and infused with scented cleaning fluid, they are perfect for removing make up or as a refreshing alternative to toilet paper. However, these apparent benefits can turn wet wipes into an environmental hazard if you flush them down the toilet. Here are four reasons why you should always dispose of wet wipes with solid household waste.
1. Wet Wipes Don't Break Down in Water
When toilet paper is soaked in water, it quickly starts to disintegrate. In contrast, wet wipes are designed to maintain their structure even when soaked. When the Australian consumer organisation CHOICE tested wet wipes labelled as "flushable" by putting them into an agitator with plenty of water, the wipes all remained intact. This failure to break down in water means that even "flushable" wet wipes can clog your toilet.
2. Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Think Again…
Just because a wet wipe flushes without causing your toilet to overflow, that doesn't mean it won't come back to haunt you later. Due to their small size and flexibility, wet wipes often manage to travel around the toilet U-bend without getting stuck. However, they may catch in narrow pipes deep inside your home's plumbing system, forcing you to make a call to an emergency plumber. This is particularly likely if your home is old, as the waste water pipes may be badly corroded and lined with sludge.
3. Wet Wipes Contribute to Fatbergs
Fatbergs are huge balls of grease that build up in city sewage systems. Water companies spend a huge amount of money every year clearing fatbergs as big as buses from public sewers, which is essential to prevent the system backing up and spilling filth all over the streets. Wet wipes are often found inside fatbergs, which suggests they are an important contributor to this serious public problem.
4. Flushed Wet Wipes Harm Wildlife
Wet wipes aren't only a hazard to homeowners and the people tasked with keeping the public sewers clear. They also pose a danger to marine life. Unlike toilet paper, wet wipes contain plastic, which helps to give them their strength and stability. Over many years, these plastics break down into tiny pieces, which are then swallowed by plankton, fish, and large marine mammals such as whales. To avoid force-feeding plastic to these vulnerable creatures, throw out your used wet wipes with your solid household waste instead of flushing them down the toilet.