UK Government announces that it will ban wet wipes containing plastic

The Government has announced that it will introduce new legislation to ban wet wipes containing plastic. This was confirmed by the Environment Secretary on April 22nd as part of plans to help tackle plastic pollution and clean up waterways.



The timeframes

The new legislation will be in place across the UK by the end of 2024, with an 18-month transition period to allow manufacturers time to switch to plastic free production – to help ease the economic impact and prevent excess stocks from being incinerated or landfilled.


Why are wet wipes containing plastic so bad?

Wipes containing plastic (which are often flushed down toilets), do not biodegrade in natural environments. These stick around for many years, breaking down into microplastics and over time contaminating water supplies. Research has shown this can be harmful to wildlife and the environment, disrupt our ecosystems, and even threaten human health.


Environmental experts have long blamed wet wipes for polluting waterways with plastic and causing so-called ‘fatbergs’ by blocking sewage pipes. According to Water UK, wet wipes flushed down toilets cause 93% of sewer blockages and cost around £100m a year to sort out.


Around 11 billion wet wipes are used in the UK each year, and studies show that there are around 20 wet wipes for every 100m stretch of beach across the UK. Banning them will reduce the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment sites, and will benefit our beaches and waterways.


What’s included in the ban?

The ban will not include the manufacture of these products – however, the government will continue to encourage manufacturers to move to plastic free options.

UK Manufacturers will be able to export wet wipes containing plastic but will not be able to supply and sell these in the UK (unless for exempted purposes).


The exemptions: industrial and medical purposes –

Wet wipes containing plastic will still be available where plastic free alternatives are unsuitable or unavailable. There will be an exemption for the supply and sale of wet wipes containing plastic for industrial and medical purposes.

The industrial exemption allows for businesses (such as hospitals or food production sites) to buy them, e.g. from wholesalers or manufacturers, but these cannot be sold onto consumers.

The Government says “The full details of these exemptions are not available now but will be included in regulations and set out in more detail in guidance.”


The background

There have been a number of proposals and changes in this area in recent years:

  • January 2019 – the Water Industry introduced a scheme allowing makers to display the ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on packaging if their wipes passed strict tests to ensure they will not contribute to sewer “fatbergs”. 
  • April 2023 – the Government considered a ban on plastic wet wipes as part of a plan to tackle water pollution, saying a ban could come in as early as the following year.
  • May 2023 – the Government asked manufacturers to reconsider use of the word ‘flushable’ to help prevent sewer blockages and water pollution due to the amount of wipes being flushed.
  • Feb 2024 – in a U-turn, Water UK scrapped the ‘flushable’ scheme to end confusion around which products were safe to dispose of in this way, and water industry chiefs said wet wipes should no longer be flushed down the toilet. 


Some ways to get ready for the change

Alternatives to wet wipes containing plastic –

As the ban approaches, get ready for the change by choosing alternative products such as:

– Reusable cloth wipes: these can be washed and reused many times, reducing waste.

– Biodegradable wet wipes: made from natural fibres, these break down more easily.


A few actions you can take to prepare for the ban –

– Switch to eco-friendly products: start using biodegradable or reusable wipes in place of plastic-containing ones.

– Educate others: spread awareness on the environmental impact of plastic wet wipes and the benefits of sustainable alternatives.

– Support sustainable brands: buy from companies that prioritise environmentally friendly products.


The stats

Stats from 2021 showed that around 90% of wipes contained plastic, although there are now alternatives available. Some high street retailers such as Boots, Aldi and Tesco have since removed plastic from their wipes.

Manufacturers responding to the Government’s October 23 consultation on the topic said that, on average, half of the wet wipes they produce contain plastic.

Only 12% of manufacturers in the consultation said they solely produced non-plastic containing wipes.


You can read more on the government announcement here – UK-wide ban on wet wipes containing plastic to be put into law – GOV.UK (

Or can see the full summary – Summary of responses and government response – GOV.UK (


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