The first wet wipes in the UK to be given official certification as “fine to flush” down the toilet will go on sale next month, as part of a national drive to eliminate the growing scourge of fatbergs.
The organic brand Natracare is launching what it claims to be Europe’s first truly flushable moist tissue wipe and the first to carry a new symbol drawn up by Water UK, which represents water and sewerage companies in Britain.
Since January, manufacturers of wipes have been able to use the “fine to flush” symbol on their packaging provided that the relevant product passes Water UK’s stringent tests. The symbol is intended to reassure consumers that the products do not contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system instead of clogging up sewers.
However, most brands still adhere to standards set by the European industry body Edana allowing products to be labelled as “flushable” even though they do not break down quickly when they enter the sewer system. Many are full of plastic or wood pulp.
Water UK considers these tests to be less rigorous than its own because they fail to replicate conditions inside sewers. Its own tests – which cost £8,000 a time – look for plastics and residuals that could contaminate rivers, estuaries and the sea.
The new Natracare wipes are plastic free and compostable, and will be sold in Waitrose, Ocado and independent health shops.
Cities around the world are growing used to the problem of subterranean fatbergs, which are caused mainly by a buildup of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass. There was a 250-metre blockage in Whitechapel in London in 2017, and last week a 84-metre fatberg was discovered in a sewer in Liverpool.
Andy Drinkwater, the lead engineer for sewage and flooding at the Water Research Centre, part of Water UK, said: “Wet wipes, along with fat, oils and grease, have been a major issue for water and sewerage companies. Our new universal standard accurately analyses what is happening in the drains so that consumers can be better informed about which products are safe to flush.”
In 2017, the biggest investigation of sewer blockages in UK history showed non-flushable wet wipes could account for about 93% of the material causing blockages.