What is the problem with wet wipes? Well the big news story today is that apparently too many of us are flushing wet wipes down the loo, where they are causing drain blockages and if they manage to break free into the sea, some marine life will mistake them for food. The tragedy of this is that they will have full tummies but zero fuel in them and can die as a direct result of eating wet wipes. Apparently our beaches are littered with wet wipes coming in from the sea. So we are all being encouraged to avoid putting wet wipes down the toilet or ideally to avoid using them altogether.
I used wet wipes when my kids were babies (I have never flushed them down the toilet though). I started out using cotton wool and water, but at some point I switched to baby wipes. I bought a supermarket own brand fragrance free eco variety of babywipes and I gave zero thought to the level of eco-friendliness of those babywipes beyond the word on the packaging. This was in spite of them costing around double their non eco-friendly equivalent. Once I had them in the house I found loads of uses for them - cleaning floors, toilets, bins, dirty shoes, wiping messy hands and faces, the list was endless. Every week I was using around 2 packets of babywipes at a cost of £156 a year.
Right at the beginning when I started this blog and was looking for ways to make savings in eco-friendly ways, I looked at my babywipes a bit closer and realised they were not eco friendly at all. They come in plastic packaging, they are not biodegradable (and actually contain plastic themselves) and contain a complex chemical ingredient list. The only difference between them and their non-eco friendly counterparts are that in the eco ones 2 ingredients are organic. That does not make them eco-friendly and they were a big waste of money. Even the wet wipes which are biodegradable are still not good, because they will take a long time to break down. They won’t biodegrade in landfill and if flushed down the toilet can still cause blockages and harm to marine life.
So what are the alternatives?
Baby wipes for reusable cloths — these can be dampened in advance and kept in a water proof pouch if you are going somewhere with no toilet facilities.
Cleansing and makeup remover wipes for olive oil and a soft cloth. Olive oil is a great makeup remover. Apply it with your fingers and wash it off with a flannel.
Hand and face wipes for flannels or make use of the sinks at public toilets if out and about.
Wipes for cleaning or dusting in the kitchen or bathroom for reusable washing cleaning cloths.
Antibacterial wipes — ditch them altogether. Overuse of antibacterial agents may be contributing to antibiotics becoming less effective. If you are worried about bacteria in a particular area wipe with vinegar.
Floor wipes for a mop or reusable floor wipe solution.
Wipes for cleaning the kitchen bin lid, toilet or other particularly dirty areas with for reusuable cloths or waste paper from your recycling bin e.g. newspaper or tissue paper.
Wiping down muddy or dirty clothes and shoes while out and about for: taking a change of shoes and clothes out with you for the journey home and putting the dirty ones in a washable reusable bag. If you don’t have any with you deal with it when you get home.
Cleaning muddy shoes at home with wipes for cleaning them with reusable cloths.
All over wipe if you don’t have access to a shower for a wet flannel. which you could keep in a reusable bag.
If you have any other uses for wipes that you have an alternative for or want to find an alternative for let me know in the comments below and I’ll try and help!
If you are wondering if washing reusable cloths negates the eco-friendliness of using reusable wipes, then my answer is this. To produce disposable items takes water and energy and then they end up in landfill. To reuse items takes water and energy but then they don’t end up in landfill (especially if they are made from natural fibres as they can be added to your compost heap at the end of their life). Plus you don’t need to buy cloths - just chop up old towels and/or sheets like I did (read more here).
ELIZABETH GUDRAIS/Harvard Magazine