The fight against fatbergs received a major boost today with the publication of a new official standard identifying which wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely. Manufacturers of wipes will be able to feature an official water industry ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on their packaging if they pass strict scientific tests. This symbol will let consumers know that the products don’t contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system instead of clogging up sewers and contributing to fatbergs which cause blockages and sewage overflows.
Fatbergs – mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass – have been increasing in frequency in recent years. These include a 250-metre long fatberg in Whitechapel in London in 2017 which weighed as much as nineteen elephants, and a 64-metre fatberg which was discovered blocking a sewer this week in Sidmouth, Devon.
In 2017 the biggest ever in-depth investigation of sewer blockages in the UK proved that wipes being flushed down toilets caused serious problems in the sewerage system. The project found that non-flushable wet wipes could make up around 93% of the material causing some sewer blockages. These wipes – which included a high proportion of baby wipes – are not designed to be flushed.
Commenting on the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard Water UK Chief Executive Michael Roberts said:
“This is an important step in the battle against blockages. We’ve all seen the impact of fatbergs recently, and we want to see fewer of them. Improving the environment is at the core of what the water industry does, and the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard that we’ve created will make it easier for consumers to buy an environmentally-friendly product instead of one which clogs up drains and sewers.”
Although there has been an increase in products being labelled ‘Do Not Flush’, there are many wipes on the market labelled ‘Flushable’ which do not break down quickly when they enter the sewer system, and which would not pass the stringent tests which meet the standard to receive the ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol. The labelling of these products can cause confusion amongst consumers, increasing the problem of sewer blockages.
Following today’s publication by Water UK, of a new official standard identifying which wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely, Dr Dr. Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society said:
“In 2018, during our annual Great British Beach Clean and survey, we found on average 12 wet wipes per 100m of beach cleaned and surveyed – an increase of over 300% over the last decade. We want a simple system where a product is either clearly labelled as ‘do not flush’ or has passed the ‘fine to flush’ standard and has the logo on pack. We know that there is huge confusion for consumers on which products can be flushed, resulting in millions being spent on blockages every year.
Unfortunately some products on the market labelled as flushable have been known to contain plastic fibres adding to plastic pollution in our oceans. In addition, by not being designed for realistic conditions found in UK sewers, they may not break down fast enough and therefore potentially contribute to blockages.
We will be asking retailers to ensure any product they tell consumers can be flushed, passes this new standard which has been designed by UK water companies, and any products which do not meet this standard are clearly labelled as ‘do not flush.’ This helps consumers make the right choices helping to reduce any potential blockages and know that their flushable product is also plastic free.”
For more information about the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.