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'Flushable' wet wipes fail water industry tests

16 November 2018

All wet wipes sold as "flushable" in the UK have so far failed the water industry's disintegration tests, the BBC has found.

This means they do not break down sufficiently to allow them to be harmlessly flushed down the toilet. But because they disappear when they are flushed away, people assume they are safe in doing so.

In reality, water companies say they end up getting caught up in filters or contribute to giant, fatty buildups known as fatbergs which block sewage pipes.

Removing these blockages costs £100million a year, according to Water UK, the main water and sewer companies' trade body. 

Wet wipes are sold for everything from make-up removal to surface cleaning. Most importantly when it comes to flushability, they're available as moist toilet tissue.

BBC Radio 4's Costing The Earth looked into the issue and its investigation claims all wet wipes sold as "flushable" in the UK have so far failed the tests, which are conducted by scientists at WRC, a water-testing laboratory in Swindon.

Manufacturers insist their test is adequate and say sewer blockages are caused by people putting non-flushable wipes down the toilet.

Tony Griffiths, from United Utilities, told the BBC the situation was "extremely frustrating" and that the money being spent on fixing problems could be going towards reducing customer bills. 

There are some wipes that pass both tests, but none are currently being sold in the UK, according to WRC. 

Matt Wheeldon, a director at Wessex Water, is calling for a ban on wipes being labelled as "flushable", telling the BBC they were a "complete scourge on our society".

The government has said it is working with manufacturers and water companies to develop a product that can be safely flushed.