Anglian Water, alongside Water UK and other water companies, is launching a new flushability standard for all wet wipes in a bid to combat the blockages which currently cost the East of England £15 million a year.
From today, manufacturers of wipes will be able to feature an official water industry ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on their packaging if their wipes 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 blockages, fatbergs and sewage overflows.
Sewer blockages and 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. Anglian Water estimates around 800 tonnes of wipes and sanitary items are being flushed every week in the East of England region.
A study in 2017 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 and plastics – are not designed to be flushed.
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.
Rachel Dyson, Anglian Water’s Keep It Clear programme manager said: “We’re really pleased that the water industry as a whole is launching this new flushability standard today.
“Wipes cause real problems in the sewer network and have a devastating impact on customers. Wipes are by far the worst culprit but cotton buds, tampons and fats also cause problems in the sewers. They result in around 80 per cent of the 40,000 blockages across the East of England each year. Most of these blockages are entirely preventable, but instead lead to devastating sewage spills, can harm the environment and cost more than £15million each year to clear. Ultimately this cost is added onto customers’ water bills and would be better spent elsewhere.”
In the UK alone, water companies estimate it costs around £100million a year to unblock sewers clogged up by wipes and hygiene products. This does not include the human and environmental impact and cost. Ultimately, only the 3 ‘p’s should be flushed – pee, poo and (toilet) paper.
Manufacturers can have their wipes tested by WRc, the Swindon-based independent technical experts who developed the specifications for flushability standards in conjunction with Water UK. If they pass the tests, manufacturers will receive the ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol from WRc to add to their packaging.
The technical name for ‘Fine to Flush’ is Water Industry Specification 4-02-06, and the full details of the specification can be found on the Water UK website