Out of the 11 billion wet wipes sold in the UK every year, 90% contain plastics such as polyester or polypropylene, and this is part of the reason why they should never be flushed down the toilet.
The water company launched its Bin The Wipe campaign in January 2020, after wipes were found to contribute to 64% of the 16,500 blockages its teams cleared in 2019.
The aim is to help people understand why it is wrong to flush wipes, encouraging them to develop better flushing habits.
Northumbrian Water’s analysis pinpoints areas that are hotspots of wipe flushing and the company sends a team of crack sewer workers in to be a dedicated presence, monitoring sewers and tracing back to the homes from which wipes have been flushed.
Working in tandem with educational letters that are sent to customers in the area, the team then follow up with conversations aimed at stopping people from putting wipes down the toilet. Only if the education fails to change behaviours does the company consider more punitive measures, such as recharging the cost of blockage clearances, or even prosecution.
Simon Cyhanko, Head of Wastewater Networks at Northumbrian Water, said: “We know that in the areas where our Bin The Wipe team have been working, the flushing of wipes has reduced by around 50%, which is fantastic.
“But too many people are still flushing wipes which risks causing blockages that can result in sewer flooding in people’s homes and the environment. Surely, we all want to stop things like that happening.
“With plastics being present in 90% of wipes, what better time than Plastic Free July to change that routine?
“Based upon the 21/90 rule, where people change habits by committing to a goal for 21 straight days, then continue for a further 90 days, using the 31 days of July to kickstart the new binning behaviour is a great way to start your better flushing journey.
“Let’s all do our part in reducing blockages and flooding, and help keep plastics out of the environment. It’s as simple as not using your toilet as a bin. After all, you wouldn’t use your bin as a toilet. Bin your wipes, don’t flush them.”