Five things you need to know about wet wipe reefs

  1. ‘The Thames Great Wet Wipe Reef’ is growing: A survey by the company responsible for delivering the Thames Tideway tunnel has revealed that one of the largest wet wipe mounds, found on the banks of London’s biggest river, has grown by 0.7 metres in the past few years. It is now 50m wide, 17m long and more than 1m high.
  2. Thames’ banks contain 13 large mounds of wet wipes: Nine of these are at Barnes. They look natural, but are formed from a thick plastic mesh of wet wipes mixed up with mud from the river.
  3. The problem is costly: Wet wipes comprise more than 90% of the material that cause sewer blockages. Water UK estimates that water companies spend around £88m a year unblocking sewers. 
  4. Wipes can contain plastic: Academics from Royal Holloway University are concerned that the plastic contained in wet wipes is impacting wildlife. Friends of the Earth says that even wipes made of regenerated cellulose might not break down quickly enough.
  5. There’s no sign of a ban from government: Despite calls for a ban, a DEFRA spokesperson said it would work with manufacturers and water companies “to develop a product that does not contain plastic and can be safely flushed”. 

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