Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Producers urged to address ‘flushable’ wet wipes labelling [May 2023]

The press release issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 29 May 2023.

Environment Secretary asks producers to address concerns over ‘flushable’ labelling of wet wipes.

Government has stepped up action to tackle harmful plastics and clean up our waterways by challenging producers of wet wipes to address concerns over how they label their products.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has written to wet wipes producers setting out her concerns about the number of wet wipes that are flushed down UK toilets – between 2.1 – 2.9 billion each year – and has asked them to reconsider the use of the word ‘flushable’ on packaging to help prevent sewer blockages and water pollution.

Wet wipes contribute to 94 percent** of sewer blockages, which can lead to damage to properties and can result in sewage-related litter entering the environment. It is estimated that water companies spend £100m each year dealing with this. 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.

Wet wipes producers have now been asked to set out how they will address these concerns.

This week (26 May) Water Minister Rebecca Pow attended a summit in Paris, where the UK, alongside 52 other members of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) to End Plastic Pollution (HAC), has signed a far-reaching Joint Ministerial Statement that calls for a range of mandatory provisions to be included in the global plastic pollution treaty, currently under negotiation.

Water Minister, Rebecca Pow said:

“It is vital that producers are more transparent with their guidance on flushability, as ultimately wet wipes that are dumped down the toilet can cause damage to our environment and water quality.

“This is alongside the wider action we’re taking on water quality, including tougher enforcement for water companies, more investment and tighter regulation to stop pollution happening in the first place.”

This action follows on from commitments made in the government’s Plan for Water to write to producers and advertising authorities about using the word ‘flushable’ on wet wipes packaging.

The Plan for Water also committed to a public consultation on the proposal to ban wet wipes containing plastic, responding to public calls to tackle the blight of plastic in our waterways and building on recent action from major retailers including Boots and Tesco. The government will work with industry and making sure plastic-free alternatives are always available to the public.

These plans build on our previous efforts to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, including:

  • One of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products announced in 2018
  • Restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds in 2020.
  • Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022 – a tax of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK, that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.

Following the huge success of the 5p single-use carrier bag charge, in May 2021 we also increased the minimum charge to 10p and extended it to all retailers, taking billions of bags out of circulation.