Baby wipes, moist towelettes, wet naps — whatever you call them, they all serve essentially the same purpose. Wet wipes are single-use, moist, sanitary paper products used for personal hygiene or household cleaning. These handy inventions are often used to clean up during diaper changes, to sanitize surfaces in the home or workplace, or even to use in place of toilet paper for extra cleanliness. And with concerns over COVID-19, the demand for these wipes has only increased.
Though they can be convenient for you, wet wipes are quite problematic for the planet, no matter how they end up there.
The synthetic fibers that make up wet wipes prevent them from being compostable or recyclable. So, after a single use, we toss them out and they head to the landfill. There, they are out of sight for most, but certainly should not be out of mind. Due to those pesky synthetic fibers, the wipes do not break down and represent a hefty proportion of non-biodegradable waste in landfills.
Regrettably, our trash doesn’t always make it to the garbage can. On-the-go wet wipe users often end up tossing their used wipes into the environment. A 2014 Marine Conservation Society beach cleanup discovered a 50% increase in wet wipes littering U.K. beaches since the preceding year. And we have seen an uptick of this unfortunate practice during the coronavirus pandemic. Wet wipes that find their way into the oceans can be fatal for marine animals, commonly settling in their stomachs and leading to starvation. These handy wipes are quickly becoming a leading environmental pollutant.
Some wet wipes are advertised as “flushable,” making them a convenient toilet paper replacement for those who wish to feel exceedingly squeaky clean. However, the idea that wet wipes can be flushed down the toilet has been contested by wastewater officials