People in the United Kingdom who use wet wipes while going to the bathroom are becoming more likely to reunite with those wipes at the beach, according to a new report.
The number of used wet wipes found on U.K. beaches has increased by 50 percent since 2013, according to a report released last week from the Marine Conservation Society. That’s because more people are flushing wet wipes down the toilet, and they’re not supposed to — wet wipes often contain tough fibers like plastic and polyester, and don’t disintegrate as easily as toilet paper.
By the time sewer systems discharge into the ocean, the report said toilet paper is supposed to have broken down. But wet wipes are increasingly blocking those systems, resulting in the tissue getting washed into the sea and on to the beach. For every kilometer the Conservation Society cleaned, the report said, 35 wet wipes were found, making them the fastest growing pollutants on U.K. beaches.
“Much of the litter we find on our beaches starts off in our bathrooms,” the report says. “It’s a disgusting thought, but it’s true.”
At least in the U.K., there has indeed been growth in sales of wet wipes, which can also include face wipes and make-up removal wipes. Sales grow about 15 percent every year, according to a report in the Daily Mail.
But that growth has been wreaking havoc on the U.K.’s sewer systems. The Daily Mail’s report said private water utility company Thames Water spends approximately £12 million ($17.9 million) per year clearing about 80,000 blockages — three-quarters of which it estimates could be caused by wet wipes.
“There’s a common misconception that they’re all flushable,” the Conservation Society’s report says.
The sewer-clogging phenomenon isn’t limited to our European neighbors. In fact, wipes have been causing problems in United States sewer systems as well. That’s partially because companies that make wet wipes, like Cottonelle and Charmin, have promoted their wipes as “flushable.”
They’re not, as many water utilities can attest to. Thames Water in particular can back up its point that wipes are not flushable — in 2013, the utility found the U.K.’s largest-ever “fatberg” stuck in their sewer system. The “fatberg,” the size of a bus, was made up of “wrongly-flushed festering food fat mixed with wet wipes formed in drains” underground.