Time to wipe out wet wipes from our rivers says Thames21

Wipes out: Thames21’s Big Wet Wipe Count on Hammersmith foreshore takes place today

The government needs to ban plastic in wet wipes immediately in order to help tackle this sewage-based pollution ending up in the River Thames, environmental charity Thames21 has urged today.

The charity made the call as it launched its second Big Wet Wipe Count event of the year, which is taking place on the Thames foreshore near Hammersmith Bridge today.

Wet wipes enter the river through sewage pipes after they are flushed down toilets. Most contain plastic in them and because of this they can cause blockages which back up sewage that spills into the River Thames. When they end up on the foreshore, they eventually break down into microplastic and damage aquatic life and the Thames’ ecosystem.

In August, while the River Wandle was running brown with sewage pumped into it by the water companies, Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central, expressed her concern over the stinking state of Chaffinch Brook, another Thames tributary.

The Chaffinch runs through South Norwood Country Park, where the river banks are caked in wet wipes from the outflow of a local sewage treatment plant.

Polluted park: the Chaffinch Brook, which runs through South Norwood Country Park, has been badly affected by wet wipes from a sewage treatment plant

Jones sent her letter to Sarah Bentley, the £2million per year chief executive of Thames Water, demanding an urgent meeting about the release of the sewage, including thousands of wet wipes, into a public park and nature reserve.

Thames21 say that the government concluded its consultation on single-use plastics, including banning plastic in wet wipes, in February this year.

The results of this consultation were due to be published in the spring but have been persistently delayed.

“The River Thames is suffering from a plague of wet wipes and we would like to see the government accelerate legislation on banning plastic in wet wipes,” said Debbie Leach, the CEO at Thames21.

“We can’t afford any more delays; the government must get on with this to ensure we don’t form any more wet wipe islands and protect the Thames from this harmful pollutant for the protection of people and for wildlife.

“Elsewhere, everybody, including water companies, consumers, the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency need to accelerate work to stop these unacceptable discharges of untreated sewage and sewage litter from happening in the first place.”

The charity partners with citizen scientists, the Port of London Authority and Tideway to run its Big Wet Wipe Count event and gather crucial data on the wet wipes settling in the Thames.

Earlier this year, Thames21’s citizen scientists found almost 2,000 wet wipes in the 60m2 surveyed next to Hammersmith Bridge in Barnes. Citizen scientists were given specific areas to monitor to survey the litter within their allocated transects.

The data will be added to bathymetric survey data held by the PLA which shows the change in mound height overtime, allowing Thames21 and the PLA to assess whether the problem is getting better or worse and if the new Thames Tideway Tunnel (due to open in 2025) improves the situation.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to Time to wipe out wet wipes from our rivers says Thames21

  1. Lewis White says:

    I didn’t know that wet wipes still contained plastics.

    If there ever was a no brainer” of an obvious bad thing for our rivers, plastic in wet wipes has to be “it”.

    If they need reinforcing, can’t manufacturers add a biodegradeable mesh of bamboo or hemp fibre?

    Even if the mega Thames relief sewer works, that will just capture the existing sewers from inner London, and convey it to Beckton and Crossness for treatment, from where it will still overflow in times of storm into the lower Thames, so millions of wipes will still end up in the North Sea, and Atlantic.

    Meantime, millions of other plastic wipes will still be getting into the Wandle when Beddington sewage works overflows, and into almost every other river in the UK via local sewage works when they break down or can’t cope due to storm volumes……………….. so the wipes will flow down into the sea, and even if they break down, will just add millions more micro-beads of plastic to the seas and marine life–including the fish and sea-food that we and all the birds and other species who live in the sea, eat. With unknown but “easy to guess” effects on our bodies, fertility, brains etc etc

    The problems of rivers — sewage pollution, rubbish dumping, lack of water (due to water abstraction, climate change, population increase), plus flash flooding due to the hard surfaced acreage of concreted and tarmacked front gardens –and illegal drain connections whereby roof water is piped into the sewers– are so many.

    Most of these are expensive and will require not only a great deal of money, but political will and “hearts and minds” campaigns to get the public to join in with the clean-up…..
    but to ban plastic-fibres in wet wipes is– or should be — simple.

    If we, the public, can’t buy it, we can’t flush it down the toilet !
    ……… End of problem.

    If Government can’t make a decision like this, it is an inadequate thing.

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