31 Aug 2018

Wipe it out. Environment campaigners' wet wipes plea

From Nine To Noon, 9:24 am on 31 August 2018

New Zealand campaigners are hoping for a ban on wet wipes similar to the one the UK has promised to impose by 2042.

Supermarket wipes

Supermarket wipes Photo: Melita Tull

Campaigners say supermarkets like New World which provide wipes near shopping trollies must stop the practice, as it's bad for the environment and is scaremongering customers into unnecessary waste and over-sanitation.

They're also calling out workplaces which hand out wipes indiscriminately around the office and in bathrooms. 

Our Seas Our Future science advisor Emily Frost says things need to change.

"There's definitely the need for some kind of healthcare-related sanitising agent, however we need to change the type of practice that we’re using.

"Instead of using disposable wipes, perhaps we could do just normal spray and cloths, or something else."

She says the wipes are a danger to marine life. 

"We can see just from doing the beach cleanups that there is a mounting issue with the disposable wipes and because they’re so impregnated with different types of plastic and different types of chemicals it is incredibly harmful for our environment."

There's also no need to be using antibacterials to keep ourselves from getting sick. 

"We’ve kind of adopted in the near history this phobia around bacteria and viruses, and it’s completely unnecessary.

"The best healthcare practice would be to just to use soap and wash your hands, just be careful around the seasons where the flu and cold is fairly common. 

"We don’t need to live in such a sterile environment, it can actually be quite harmful for children who are developing … to not be exposed to these viruses and bacteria and end up being exposed to lots of severe allergies."

Just like the push to get rid of plastic bags, there's also no point to being so wasteful, she says. 

The wet wipes 'fatburg' removed from a sewerage pipe in Eleebana, NSW.

Huge fatbergs, like this one from Eleebana in NSW, can cause big problems for people like collapsing roads and bursting sewers, and be very costly to clean up.  Photo: TWITTER / @HunterWater

"It just is costly to produce, costly to dispose of, can’t be reused and just is incredibly wasteful." 

The buildup of wipes can also lead to the inner-city problem of fatbergs. 

"The build up of either fatty particles or different components - say, like sanitary items or the wet wipes or large tissue items that get clogged in drains - and it completely clogs up the drainage underneath the cities and it can be a massively costly issue. 

It's a problem New Zealand should get ahead of, she says, and with the move to ban plastic bags there's no reason not to ban wipes too. 

"We need to be a little bit more strict with ourselves and the government needs to be a little bit more strict and the supermarket chains… New Zealand needs to follow and step up to this. 

"We are falling behind, and we need to show a little bit of leadership in this area."