Holland & Barrett is to become the first UK high street retailer to stop selling wet wipes, in a drive to reduce the environmental damage wreaked as a result of them blocking sewers and waterways.
The health food chain is removing all 34 branded and own-label products in its wet wipe range from its 800 UK and Ireland stores and – from July – replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives such as double-sided cotton cloths, unbleached cotton muslin cloths, cotton pads and exfoliating gloves. Its shops in other countries will follow suit by the end of September.
According to the EarthWatch Institute, 9.3m wipes a day, often used for makeup removal or as hand sanitisers, are flushed down UK toilets. Standard wipes contain plastic or wood pulp, which means that despite being labelled “flushable” they do not biodegrade quickly when they enter the sewer system and can lead to blockages.
“There is a growing awareness of how much our current throwaway culture is damaging our oceans, beaches and rivers,” said Joanne Cooke, the head of beauty at Holland & Barrett. “We want to encourage our customers to think about what they currently throw away and encourage them to swap to more sustainable alternatives. The quickest way for us all to make a positive impact on the world we live in is to choose to spend our money on more sustainable products.”
The Marine Conservation Society said that during its annual beach clean last year, it found an average of 12 wet wipes per 100 metres of beach cleaned – a leap of more than 300% compared with 10 years previously.
Meanwhile, cities are growing used to the scourge of subterranean fatbergs – caused mainly by a buildup of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass. These included a 250-metre fatberg in Whitechapel in London in 2017, which weighed as much as 19 elephants.
Since January, manufacturers have been able to use the “fine to flush” symbol on packaging if the wipe passes Water UK’s stringent tests. The symbol aims to reassure consumers that the product does not contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system. But Holland & Barrett said this was not effective as it was not mandatory and called on other retailers to follow its lead.