By Emily Beament, Press Association Environment Correspondent
A “fine to flush” symbol is being introduced for wet wipes that have passed strict tests to ensure they will not contribute to sewer “fatbergs”, the water industry has said.
Manufacturers of wipes will be able to feature the official water industry logo on their packaging if their products pass the independent tests to prove they can be safely flushed down the toilet.
This will let consumers know that the products do not contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system instead of clogging up sewers and contributing to fatbergs which cause blockages, industry body Water UK said.
The move comes amid consumer confusion and growing concern about the problems caused by flushing away wet wipes, many of which are labelled flushable but do not break down quickly when they enter the sewer system.
These types of wipes would not pass the stringent tests that will allow them to receive the “fine to flush” symbol, Water UK said.
Manufacturers will be able to have their wipes tested by WRc, Swindon-based independent technical experts who have developed the standards with Water UK, and will awarded the mark if the product passes.
Fatbergs, which are mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, oils and grease into a solid mass, have increased in frequency in recent years, with a 210ft (64m) fatberg discovered blocking a sewer in Sidmouth, Devon, this week.
Non-flushable wet wipes could make up around 93% of the material causing some sewer blockages, according to research into the problem in 2017.
Water UK, which represents water and sewerage companies, said there are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages a year, costing £100 million, harming the environment and leading to home and business drains backing up.
Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “This is an important step in the battle against blockages.
“We’ve all seen the impact of fatbergs recently, and we want to see fewer of them.
“Improving the environment is at the core of what the water industry does, and the new ‘fine to flush’ standard that we’ve created will make it easier for consumers to buy an environmentally-friendly product instead of one which clogs up drains and sewers.”
The Marine Conservation Society called for retailers to ensure all wipes have either passed the fine to flush standard and have the logo on the pack, or are clearly labelled with “do not flush”, to help consumers make the right choices.
The charity said that, in its annual beach clean in 2018, volunteers found an average of 12 wet wipes per 110 yards (100m) of beach cleaned and surveyed, an increase of more than 300% in the last decade.
Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We know that there is huge confusion for consumers on which products can be flushed, resulting in millions being spent on blockages every year.”
“Unfortunately some products on the market labelled as flushable have been known to contain plastic fibres, adding to plastic pollution in our oceans.
“In addition, by not being designed for realistic conditions found in UK sewers, they may not break down fast enough and therefore potentially contribute to blockages.”