Baby wipes. Nearly all of us use them, but do we ever stop to think about what happens after we dispose of them? Or the sheer quantity we get through?
Dan and I were chatting the other day about just how many baby wipes we actually use. With a young baby to care for we pretty much always have a pack to hand. These are messy times, and a commercial baby wipe is perfect for nappy changes, mealtimes and general hand and face wiping.
Baby wipes aren’t cheap, especially the chemical-free ones we’ve been using, but the cost to the environment is far greater.
The problem: Sewage issues
Who flushes baby wipes anyway?
Well lots of people, apparently. Wipes that are flushed down the loo block sewage pipes which can cause sewage to overflow into the ocean, and have a devastating effect on marine life.
Tonnes of wipes make their way into the sewage system each year. They combine with fats, oils and other non-flushable products resulting in sewer blockages which cost water companies an average of £81million a year to sort out (1). And we wonder why our bills are so high!
In 2015, the Marine Conservation Society reported a 31% rise in the number of wipes that washed up onto Britain’s beaches from the previous year (2). That’s a MASSIVE increase! For all the wipes that are washed up, think about how many are floating around the ocean. The impact is catastrophic; many marine species mistake wipes for food, ingest them, and ultimately starve to death. Other marine species are affected by the small amount of plastics found in some wipes (wait, plastic? I didn’t know either) and this leads to microplastics entering the food chain (1).
Ok, so the wipes in these statistics aren’t solely wipes from nappy changes; they’ll include make-up wipes and ‘flushable’ toilet wipes (a misleading term – they don’t break down as easily as they’d have you believe). Even so, no doubt many baby wipes from nappy changes are being flushed away, contributing to this devastation. Tsk.
The problem: Landfill issues
So, for those of us who aren’t flushing baby wipes, we get a gold star, yeah? No. Those wipes are going somewhere, and that somewhere is straight into landfill.
In England alone, in 2014/2015 (the stats go by financial year) the amount of Local Authority Collected Waste sent to landfill totalled 6.4 million tonnes (3). No doubt there’ll be quite a lot of wipes amongst that lot. With landfill sites reaching capacity and contributing to pollution and the greenhouse effect, this is an increasingly worrying problem.
Avoid using baby wipes where possible!
Ideally we should all stop using baby wipes straight away and start using more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
Realistically we’re not all going to do this, no matter how good our intentions. Life is busy and convenience is important. Having said that, we can reduce the number of disposable wipes we use, particularly in the home.
Three tips to help reduce your baby wipe use
1. Use a soft face cloth for general cleaning and at mealtimes
We picked up some soft face flannels from B&M for under £2. They’re actually better than baby wipes as there’s more friction to remove food and snot (sorry) yet they’re gentle on delicate baby skin.
2. Invest in some re-usable baby wipes
I didn’t even know they existed before researching for this post, but they do. And I say invest in them, but it’ll be much cheaper in the long-run. You can pick up a pack of 10 for about £6.50. Admittedly, the thought of having to wash a baby wipe to re-use it is a bit gross, but at least they’re machine washable!
3. If you do still want to use wipes, try to limit them to ‘out and about’.
We all know how convenient wipes are, but if we limit their use by just using them on the go, it will significantly reduce the amount of wipes we get through. Having said this, re-usable wipes can also be taken out and about, of course. You either need to pre-wet them or take a little bottle of water in the changing bag.
* * * * *
Have you tried re-usable baby wipes? If so, how have you found them? If not, would you consider it?
- Marine Conservation Society, 2016. Wet wipes turn nasty. [online] Marine Conservation Society. Available at: www.wetwipesturnnasty.com [Accessed 5th November 2016].
- Marine Conservation Society, 2015. Great British Beach Clean 2015 Report. [online] Marine Conservation Society. Available at: www.mcsuk.org/downloads/gbbc/2016/487-2016%20Beachwatch%20GBBC%20Summary%2016pp%20A5%20WEB%20Spreads.pdf [Accessed 5th November 2016]
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2015. Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England in 2014 – 2015. [online] A National Statistics Publication. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481771/Stats_Notice_Nov_2015.pdf [Accessed 7th October 2016].