A consultation on banning wet wipes containing plastic across the UK has been launched today under plans to tackle plastic pollution and clean up waterways.

  • UK-wide consultation launched to ban wet wipes containing plastic
  • Proposed ban will tackle plastic pollution in marine environment and reduce microplastics entering wastewater treatment plants
  • Proposal delivers on the UK Government’s Plan for Water, delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement across the water system

A consultation on banning wet wipes containing plastic across the UK has been launched today under plans to tackle plastic pollution and clean up our waterways (14 October 2023). 

A key measure in the UK Government’s Plan for Water, the ban forms part of the government’s ongoing work to ensure there is more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement across the water system, helping tackle plastic and microplastic pollution and improve water quality.

Wet wipes containing plastic break down into microplastics over time, which can be harmful to the environment and human health. Banning wet wipes containing plastic would help alleviate this issue, as well as reducing the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment plants when wrongly flushed. 

Alternatives to wet wipes containing plastic are already available, with a number of major brands removing plastic from wet wipes. Boots, Tesco and Aldi are amongst major retailers who have stopped selling wet wipes containing plastic. The ban would build on this action from retailers to make only plastic-free wet wipes available to consumers.  

The plans have been set out in a joint consultation with the devolved administrations which has been launched today to seek views on banning the manufacture, supply and sale of plastic-containing wet wipes across the UK.

It recognises public calls for action to tackle plastic pollution in waterways, and widespread public support for the proposed ban. A 2021 Call for Evidence in England found that 96% of respondents supported a ban on wet wipes containing plastic.  

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

Wet wipes containing plastic are unnecessary and are polluting our environment.

Today’s plan shows we will continue to tackle plastic pollution in our waterways, building on banning microbeads in personal care products to taking billions of plastic bags out of circulation.

The consultation delivers on Defra’s commitments set out in the Plan for Water this year to launch a public consultation on the ban and work with industry to ensure plastic-free alternatives are widely available, with some retailers already taking action. 

It also forms part of the Government’s wider world-leading action to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution and eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

David Henderson, Water UK Chief Executive, said:

We welcome the Government’s plan to ban plastics from wet wipes. When flushed, these wipes cause fatbergs and other blockages that trigger overflow spills into rivers or flood homes and businesses.

As our Bin the Wipe campaign makes clear, these products should never be flushed. We can all do our bit by putting wet wipes in the bin, rather than flushing them.

Natalie Gourlay, Head of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) at Boots UK said:

Boots removed all wet wipes containing plastic from sale in stores and online earlier this year as part of our long-standing commitment to sustainability and working with suppliers and customers to reduce the use of plastic.

We are pleased to see the Government now taking action in this area as collectively we all have a responsibility to protect the environment and enable a healthy planet.

The UK Government and devolved administrations have already banned microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. Additionally, the UK Government introduced the Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022, a tax of more than £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in or imported to the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.

Elsewhere, the Government’s hugely successful single-use carrier bag charge has cut sales in the main supermarkets by more than 98% since its introduction in 2015, taking billions of bags out of circulation.

Today’s announcement follows action by the Environment Secretary, who wrote to producers and retailers of wet wipes earlier in the year regarding the labelling of wet wipes as ‘flushable’.  

Wet wipes contribute to 94% of sewer blockages, which can lead to damage to properties and can result in sewage-related litter entering the environment. The Environment Secretary has told producers that labels saying ‘flushable’ or ‘fine to flush’ may encourage consumers to dispose of wipes down the toilet, rather than disposing of them responsibly in the bin. 

The government continues to support Water UK’s ‘Bin the Wipe’ campaign to address the environmental and drainage impacts of flushing wet wipes, in line with commitments in the Plan for Water.

The consultation will run for 6 weeks, until the 25th November 2023.  

Published 14 October 2023