Did you know that most baby wet wipes, moist toilet tissues, hygiene wipes and cleaning wipes are made with plastic? Wet wipes are super convenient for cleaning mucky, sticky hands, faces and worktops, but how many of us realise that most are not actually made of paper but contain plastic. These plastic resins like polyester or polypropylene will never fully biodegrade and will break into smaller and smaller pieces polluting land, rivers and oceans, and entering wildlife and human food chains.
Short history of wet wipes
Disposable wet wipes were first used in the 1960’s and were detergent saturated tissue paper. The problem with them was that they would fall apart. Manufacturers started incorporating increasingly tougher fibres and structure in the blend and their usefulness and commercial value multiplied. The wet-wipe boom grew in the 1990s when Kimberly-Clark, makers of Huggies nappies and Procter & Gamble who make Pampers, began pushing baby wipes as the new must-have parental convenience.
Eco-friendly wet wipes?
There are wipes available that are made from more natural alternatives and contain no plastic. Natracare’s baby wipes are made from organic cotton cloth, as are the wipes from brand Organyc. Kit and Kin offer sustainable and biodegradable 100% plant-based wipes. None of these eco-friendly wipes however are flushable and should always be disposed of in the bin.
Why shouldn’t we flush wet wipes?
Even when a wet wipe package claims its contents are flushable, biodegradable or compostable, they won’t degrade quickly enough to avoid being a menace down our drains and in our waterways. Wet wipes, moist toilet tissue and hygiene wipes labelled as flushable can still block pipes and increase pollution in our seas and beaches. According to a study conducted last year by Water UK, wet wipes made up an astounding 93% of the material causing blockages in our sewers. The 2017 Great British Clean weekend found an average of 27 wet wipes for every 100 metres of coastline.
Only three things should ever be flushed down the toilet – pee, poo and paper!
Make your own wet wipes
A cheap, easy and eco-friendly alternative to disposable wipes and a gentler option for baby’s precious, delicate skin is to use a muslin, flannel or cotton wool. By just using water you know exactly what is being applied to your little one’s skin. For a newborn or small baby, water and pure cotton wool is all you really need. The dirty cloths can be washed each evening on a hot wash, ready to be used the next day.
When our children were babies we made our own wet wipes, daily if going out and about, by placing a number of organic cotton wool pads in a leakproof container and pouring over warm water and a few drops of organic baby oil (the oil helps to stop the cotton wool dragging and leaves tiny bottoms soft and moisturised). The pads needed to be wet but not too soggy. The container fitted neatly in the nappy bag, perfect for changing time.
When at home the simple solution was to fill a little pot with warm water and a couple of drops of organic baby oil. Cotton wool pads were dipped in the water and squeezed out as needed (and disposed of in the bin and not down the toilet). We found this to be an easy, much cheaper and more environmentally friendly option then using wet wipes for every nappy change!
We can all do our bit. Wet wipes are a convenience hard to give up, but we can at least make sure we only use the genuinely biodegradable/compostable ones – and absolutely never flush them.