Wet Wipes: Plastic

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at on 23 June 2022.

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Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Paymaster General

If he will make it his policy to ban the sale of wet wipes containing plastic.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Like the hon. Member, I am determined to tackle the issue. We have already run a call for evidence to explore policy options for tackling wet wipes, including a possible ban on those that contain plastic. We have also sought views on mandatory flushability standards, mandatory labelling and an extended producer responsibility scheme.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Paymaster General

I welcome the Minister’s response. Billions of wet wipes containing plastic are still being used across the country, causing environmental damage and blocking our sewers. The consultation finished in February and there is still no ban in sight. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the next steps towards achieving a ban?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There was a huge response to the call for evidence, and we are working our way through the details. We have to make sure that if a ban is brought in, it does not have knock-on effects that will cause similar problems. Even though other wet wipes might be deemed suitable to flush, they still get stuck in sewers, so we have to be mindful of that. I say to everybody, “If you don’t need to use a wet wipe, don’t—and don’t chuck them down the loo.”

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Could the Minister expand on that answer? When are the results of the call for evidence on the proposals to ban single-use plastics likely to be published?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend’s question demonstrates the interest in the issue. I am just as interested myself, but we have to get the science right. We must not jump out of the frying pan into the fire, so we are exploring all options and the science behind them before we make an announcement, but I assure him that it will be made shortly.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

My constituent Stephen, who is blind and partially deaf, has an assistance dog called Jodie. Stephen has told me that he is required to pay £160 for an animal health certificate and vaccines each time he takes Jodie to an EU country—

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

Anyone who has visited a sewage works such as Budds Farm in Havant or Bishop’s Waltham, as I have, can see the impact of wet wipes on the sewerage system. What more can we do now to raise awareness of the issues among the public so that only the three Ps are flushed down the loo?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am a mother who did not use wet wipes. It is all about comms and education. If one has to flush, one should look for the flushability logo. My hon. Friend is so right, because 93% of sewerage blockages are caused by wet wipes, which then get fat stuck around them, causing fatbergs. The more we talk about not using them, the better.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

The Minister will know that when there are overflow discharges into rivers from water treatment works, wet wipes are not filtered out. She will also know that the River Tame has a very high concentration of microplastics. It is of massive concern to me, as secretary of the Friends of the Tame Valley, that the trees along the riverbank are littered with wet wipes. What is the Minister doing, not only to get the message out about not flushing wet wipes down the toilet, but to clean up our riverbanks so that they do not look like a horrific scene from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can only agree that it is revolting. We are getting sewage overflows more frequently than we need because of blockages with wet wipes. It is slightly extraordinary really, but that is why we are doing all the work and that is why we have done the call for evidence. We will come up with some suggestions for what we propose to do very shortly.