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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 24 July, 2019
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No ban on wet wipes just yet but flushing them is causing 'severe problems' to water network

The UK is looking at banning them but we’re waiting on a report from the EU commission before taking any action.

Image: Adam Radosavljevic/Shutterstock

THE GOVERNMENT HAS NO plans as of yet to ban wet wipes, but Irish Water has said that the practice of flushing them down toilets is “unfortunately commonplace” and can cause “severe blockages” in the sewer system.

Earlier this week, the UK government announced plans to eliminate plastic use which includes “single use products like wet wipes”, the BBC reported.

Wet wipes have been identified by Water UK as causing 93% of blockages in UK sewers, and a key element of the notorious fatbergs that often create giant obstacles underground.

A common problem is the flushing of the wipes, which contain non-biodegradable plastic. Other commonly used plastics are also under the microscope, with Westport announcing plans to become the first town in Ireland to eradicate plastic straws.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Irish Water said that the practice of flushing baby wipes and other sanitary items down the toilet happens often around the country and “can cause severe problems for the wastewater network”.

“Among the most commonly flushed items are baby wipes, cotton wool buds, cleansing pads, cigarettes and even nappies,” the spokesperson said.

These items should not be in our sewer networks. When they are flushed down the toilet, they can stick together and cause severe blockages in the sewer network and at the wastewater treatment plant.

Irish Water said that these items can combine with fats, oils and greases to create blockages in our sewers, although fatbergs like those seen in the UK are rare.

fatberg-2 Giant fatbergs often clog up British sewers. Source: Thames Water

The spokesperson added: “[This] can build up over time, leading to blockages in sewer networks, which can also result in flooding. Clearing these blockages in the public network is costly and time-consuming.”

Comment on the UK move, the Green Party in Ireland said it would be in favour of a ban on wet wipes here.

Party leader Eamon Ryan told TheJournal.ie: “We would support a ban on wet wipes, as part of a wider range of measures to cut down on single use plastic use and plastic pollution.

There are low and zero waste alternatives to wet wipes – the damage they cause wastewater treatment systems and the marine environment is avoidable.

Ryan said that many individuals and businesses are already taking action to cut out single use plastics, like coffee cups, but that the environmentally friendly option should be made the default under law.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment did not say it had any plans for the banning on wet wipes but would follow closely a planned publication from the EU on plastics.

A spokesperson said: “In terms of banning wet wipes as a general waste, the EU Commission is to publish a range of measures for dealing with single use items containing plastic this month.

The Government must wait to see what is contained in this proposal before making any decisions on banning or placing a levy on any single use item.

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Sean Murray

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