Britain considers banning wet wipes that cause 'fatbergs' in waterways

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After focusing on disposable straws in its crusade against plastic waste, the British government has turned its attention toward wet wipes.

The government now says that wet wipes — used for multiple purposes such as cleaning babies, removing makeup and wiping hands — are another single-use product that is causing too much waste.

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That means manufacturers will either have to stop selling the products, or figure out how to make them biodegradable.

The Department of Economics, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said Monday the move could occur in the next 25 years as part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s bid to end the use of all “avoidable plastic waste” by 2042.

The ban would also include other products such as cotton swabs that are often flushed down the toilet and end up in water systems.

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Could Canada do the same?

May has encouraged other Commonwealth countries to join in on the movement.

“Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting,” May said in a statement ahead of a Commonwealth summit in April.

READ MORE: Toronto restaurants pushing for elimination of plastic straws to reduce waste

But at the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skirted questions over whether Canada would join in.

Days later on Earth Day, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna launched Canada’s Dialogue on Plastic Waste.

The dialogue is meant to gather Canadians’ views on how the country can curb plastic waste.

“I look forward to working with our partners here at home and our G7 counterparts and others abroad to make sure plastics are reused and recycled smartly in a way that benefits both our economy and our environment,” McKenna said in an April 22 statement.

WATCH: Plastic straw ban? Trudeau will look to G7 leaders to take the lead

Wet wipes and ‘fatbergs’

Research by Water UK, which oversees water and sewage companies in the country, found that wipes made up 93 per cent of waste causing sewer blockages in the country.

The blockages are dubbed “fatbergs,” and also consist of components such as oil or grease, feminine hygiene products and plastic wrappers.

The December 2017 report flagged that wet wipes are often flushed down toilets, despite being marked “do not flush.”

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Several Canadian organizations have also expressed similar concerns. Among them is Water Canada, which said in an April 2017 statement that even products labelled “flushable” may not completely break down.

The organization has called for an international standard for products classified as flushable.

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Parents aren’t happy about possible ban

While the possible ban on wet wipes aims to benefit the environment, British parents blasted the move online as unintentionally making their lives difficult.

One parent said he’s never flushed a wet wipe down the toilet, while another said they should be considered an “essential item” for new parents.

— With a file from Global News reporter Katie Dangerfield 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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