Four answers to the water industry’s wet wipe problem

This week the BBC revealed what many in the water industry had known for some time – that there is no such thing as a ‘flushable’ wet wipe.

All wet wipes sold as flushable in the UK have so far failed the water industry’s disintegration tests, the Radio 4 programme Costing The Earth found.

And because they don’t disintegrate, the wipes contribute to the £90m fatberg problem now clogging UK sewers.

So what can be done about the problem? Here are three different approaches.

1. Target customers – and manufacturers

Yorkshire Water is called out to more than 30,000 sewer blockages every year, costing £2.4 million – and 40 per cent of these incidents are caused by wipes. Now it has launched a customer awareness campaign to raise awareness of the problem, while at the same time asking wet wipe manufacturers to add a ‘no flushing’ symbol to their packaging.

2. Swap wipes for gel

When toilet paper isn’t enough, some people reach for so-called flushable wipes. But what if there was an alternative? There is. Estonian startup SATU Laboratory is one of a number of companies that has developed a toilet paper gel. You apply the gel to moisten normal toilet paper, and it does the same job as a wet wipe.

3. Knock on a lot of doors

Southern Water is running a Keep It Clear campaign to let everyone know to bin not flush their wipes. And they are taking this message to the doorstep: “Our team will be knocking on the doors of nearly 20,000 homes each year to share information about what and what not to flush down the loo or pour down the sink and drains,” a spokesman said.

4. Develop a truly flushable wipe

The government is now looking into this issue, Defra says. It is working with water companies and wet wipe makers “to develop a product that does not contain plastic and can be safely flushed, as well as to make sure labelling on the packaging of these products is clear and people know how to dispose of them properly”.

See also:


What we do

Qa Research undertakes a wide range of customer insight and research studies for water companies.
Core topic areas have focused on Attitudes to River Water Quality, Improving Bathing Water Quality, Evaluating Behaviour Change Campaigns (water saving initiatives and sewer blockage prevention), Testing New Billing Concepts and Designs, Evaluating Behaviours During Water Supply Interruption, Online Tool Development for Willingness to Pay Surveying and much more.

Find out more about the work we’ve done within the water sector by contacting Richard Bryan on