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Marine Litter


Marine litter is a serious concern to EDANA and its member companies, and there have been some questions about the impact of wipes in our waterways.

Below are a series of Q&As, which aim to help provide clear and correct information about marine litter and microplastics, and our industry’s actions to ensure that wipes are disposed of correctly.

Should you have any questions, please contact pierre.conrath@edana.org, who will either respond, or connect you with the relevant expert.

Are wipes contributing to marine litter?
Although marine litter is mainly made up of other items (see here), wipes that are improperly disposed i.e. non-flushable wipes in the toilet or thrown into the environment, can make their way to our seas and oceans.

The number of wipes found on beaches and in the marine environment depends how many wipes that are used and then incorrectly flushed. In some cases, wipes have been visible on beaches, as non-flushable wipes (like baby wipes, cosmetic or facial wipes, and household cleaning wipes) can accumulate in local sewage systems, and be flushed out all at once in case of excessive rainfall or flooding.

While your local water company makes every effort to remove these wipes, you can make the biggest difference by disposing of any wipe not designed to be compatible with the sewer network into a rubbish bin. To find out which wipe belongs in the bin, look for the ‘Do not Flush’ symbol (below) on your pack.



Is it OK to flush wipes?
In most cases it isn’t. The sewer network is essential to our public health and we shouldn’t consider it as an alternative bin. However, some wipes, especially those contaminated with blood, urine or faeces are best disposed of via the toilet, but only if the wipe has been designed to be flushed, which means that it is intended to break down in water. 

The majority of wipes you can find at your local store are generally not designed to be flushed. In order to do the job they are designed for, most wipes must keep their shape and strength, even when wet - this is why they are typically made of fibres that make them stronger than toilet paper. This also means that most wipes (such as baby, facial or cleaning wipes) do not disperse like toilet paper and therefore shouldn’t be flushed.

Look for the ‘Do not Flush’ symbol  on your pack to see if the wipe should be disposed of in the rubbish bin. If you have any doubts, it’s best to dispose of the wipe into a bin.

How is the presence of wipes in marine litter being addressed?
In order to reduce the presence of marine litter, action is being undertaken by Governments, and voluntary industry initiatives, but we also need a change in behaviour from the public.

For many years now, industry has taken action to ensure that wipes are clearly labelled with a ‘Do not Flush’ symbol  to make it clear that the wipes must be disposed together with other household waste, in a bag or a bin.

In addition to labelling, our industry has developed a series of standardised tests to assess which wipes are compatible with the sewer network. A set of guidelines, which outlines the tests and other activities by the industry is available free-of-charge
here, and ensures that wipes which pass these tests effectively disperse in water, and can be safely flushed. The wipes industry continues to evolve and update these tests, both to ensure the highest level of public hygiene and safety, and to ensure that the views of wastewater operators are taken into consideration.

In addition to many beach and ocean clean-up initiatives at local and national level, the only effective way to reduce marine litter is to prevent littering and ensure that all waste is properly disposed and collected.

Can wipes that end up in the sea negatively impact the environment and marine life?
Yes. While wipes do not pose any risk of entanglement to marine species, like any other item not designed to be in our seas and oceans, many wipes contain materials that do not readily break down, and can therefore indirectly impact marine life and ecosystems.

Is marine litter and microplastics the same problem?
Yes and no. While both refer to the presence of items not designed to be present in our seas and oceans, marine litter refers to rubbish or trash that is found in the wrong place (such as cigarette butts, food wrappings, and other rubbish), while microplastics are small plastic particles that can come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes. These particles may end up in the food chain.

While the use of synthetic fibres in some wipes could eventually degrade to smaller sizes, single-use wipes are just that, and don’t allow for any smaller parts of the fibre to travel into the water stream as a result of laundering.

Are there other test methods that refer to flushable wipes?
Yes, however, like the INDA/EDANA test methods, they are also voluntary. EDANA and INDA, our partner association in the USA continue to update both the test methods, and the labelling guidelines, to reflect current manufacturing technologies, and the views of experts from the water and wipes industries. The current (third) edition of these guidelines is available free-of-charge here.

Work is currently underway on the 4
th edition of these guidelines and test methods. To receive any future updates about this topic, please contact marines.lagemaat@edana.org.

There is also a project underway from the International Standards Organisation (ISO), with participants from across the world, and includes experts from water companies, wipes manufacturers, and technical experts. Information about this project, will be published upon its completion.

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