Wipeout: Why it’s time to bin the wet wipe
In recent years the news has been awash with stories about ‘fatbergs’. They clog up the sewage pipes that traverse the city beneath our feet, prompting water companies to splash out millions of pounds clearing them away.
One of the main antagonists in this battle is the wipes we use in our homes, with a 2017 report finding that over 90% of the mass causing sewage blockages was made up of wipes. Once these wipes weave their way through our wastewater system, the plastic in them can then go on to create further pollution in our rivers and seas.
However, hindering the flow of our sewage and suffocating our environment with plastic aren’t the only problems that single-use wipes present. A new study by the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has found that household cleaning wipes may also contain harmful chemicals, presenting potential negative effects on the human body.
They tested 36 cleaning wipes available on the Danish market and rated them A, B or C depending on the chemicals found within the wipe. Just five of the wipes attained an A-rating, meaning they were free of problematic chemicals. Twenty products received the lowest rating of C. These lowest scoring products contained allergenic preservatives or, very worryingly, suspected endocrine disrupters.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that disrupt the functioning of our sensitive hormone system. Some endocrine disrupting chemicals have been linked to health conditions such as infertility, diabetes, and obesity alongside many more.
One chemical, Methylisothiazolinone (MI), found in these products has already been banned in cosmetics, due to the likelihood of the product coming into contact with human skin, however it remains unrestricted in cleaning products.
The pandemic exacerbated this problem even further. As we were all encouraged to wipe down more surfaces the demand for anti-bacterial wipes shot up.
There are ways to avoid harmful chemicals in cleaning wipes. One of the easiest ways is to simply cut down on the amount of wipes we buy. Instead, use washable cloths and simple ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice and sodium bicarbonate.
If you are buying cleaning products try and buy products with ecolabels, such as the EU Ecolabel.
Wipes should also never be flushed down the toilet (even ones labelled flushable), as the plastic in them will not degrade and can wreak havoc in the environment. So, remember to always bin that wipe!
For more information on how to avoid chemicals in cleaning products see here.