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UK-wide ban on wet wipes containing plastic to be put into law

  • UK-wide ban on wet wipes containing plastic to be put into law
  • Government announces next steps to ban the supply and sale of wet wipes containing plastic following overwhelming support during the consultation process
  • World-leading legislation will be introduced this year to help tackle plastic pollution and clean up waterways  
  • Transition period set out for businesses to help them adapt

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The UK Government will introduce new world-leading legislation to ban wet wipes containing plastic, the Environment Secretary confirmed on Monday. 

Defra intend to bring forward the legislation for England ahead of summer recess, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following by the autumn as part of an aligned approach to bring the ban into force.

Wet wipes containing plastic break down into microplastics over time, which research shows can be harmful to human health and disrupt our ecosystems – with a recent survey showing an average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100 metres of beach surveyed across the UK*.

Once in our water environment, wet wipes containing plastic can accumulate biological and chemical pollutants, increasing the risk of harm to the animals and humans who encounter them.

Banning them will reduce plastic and microplastic pollution and reduce the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment sites when wrongly flushed – meaning our beaches and waterways will benefit from the ban.

Responses to the public consultation showed overwhelming support for the proposed ban – which will be introduced via secondary legislation under our Environmental Protection Act 1990 – with 95% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the proposals. The government’s response has been published alongside the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive.

Marking Earth Day 2024, with its theme of ‘Planet vs. Plastics’, the response sets out next steps to deliver the ban, building on action taken across the UK to tackle plastic pollution. 

Defra intend to bring forward the legislation for England ahead of summer recess, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following by the autumn  

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: "Wet wipes containing plastic are polluting our waterways and causing microplastics to enter the environment. Defra will introduce legislation before the summer recess to crack down on this unnecessary source of pollution, following our successful single-use carrier bag charge and ban on microbeads in personal care products.   

"I have been clear that a step change is needed to protect our waterways from pollution. The ban builds on a raft of actions already taken to protect our waterways and hold water companies accountable - including accelerating investment, putting water company fines back into the environment and quadrupling the number of inspections of water company sites."

Plastic-free wet wipes are readily available and several retailers have already stopped selling wet wipes containing plastic.   

Steve Ager, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer at Boots, said: Boots removed all wet wipes containing plastic from sale in stores and online last year as part of our long-standing commitment to sustainability and working with suppliers and customers to reduce the use of plastic.

We are pleased to see the government now taking action as a ban on all wet wipes containing plastic will have a much bigger impact than retailers taking action alone. We all have a collective responsibility to protect the environment and support a healthy planet.

Luke Emery, Plastics and Packaging Director at Aldi, said: "The removal of plastic from Aldi wet wipes two years ago has been positive for our customers and the environment.

"It has removed an estimated 7,000 tonnes of unnecessary plastic from the system and has been welcomed by Aldi shoppers. We support the introduction of this new legislation and the positive impact it will have for everyone."

An 18-month transition period will start from when legislation is passed to allow businesses time to prepare. Following consultation with industry, the ban will not include the manufacture of these products, in line with other recent single-use plastic bans.

However, the government will continue to encourage manufacturers to move to a position where all their wet wipes are plastic free.   

The government response also sets out exemptions to ensure that wet wipes containing plastic remain available where there is no viable alternative – such as for medical disinfectant purposes. The Government will review the need for these exemptions regularly.

Today’s announcement follows recent measures delivered to improve the water environment, including:  

  • A new £11m Water Restoration Fund to reinvest water company fines and penalties back into the water environment.   
  • Requiring companies to monitor 100% of storm overflows in England - providing a complete picture of when and where sewage spills happen.      
  • Removing the cap on civil penalties for water companies and broadening their scope so swifter action can be taken against those who pollute our waterways.      
  • Requiring the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £60 billion over 25 years – to revamp ageing assets and reduce the number of sewage spills by hundreds of thousands every year.       
  • Increasing protections for coastal and estuarine waters by expanding the Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, prioritising bathing waters, sites of special scientific interest and shellfish waters.   
  • targeted plan to better preserve and protect the River Wye, including £35m in funding.  
  • Speeding up the process of building key water supply infrastructure, including more reservoirs and water transfer schemes. 
  • The government also continues to support Water UK’s ‘Bin the Wipe’ campaign to address the environmental and drainage impacts of flushing wet wipes. Advice is clear that only the 3 P’s (Pee, Poo & [toilet] Paper) should ever be flushed down a toilet.

*For the period 2015 to 2020, an average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100m of beach surveyed across the UK according to Defra Beach Litter Monitoring Data.

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