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UK ban on wet wipes containing plastic to be put into law

The UK Government will introduce new world-leading legislation to ban wet wipes containing plastic, as confirmed by the Environment Secretary.

Defra intend to bring forward the legislation for England ahead of summer recess, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following by the autumn as part of an aligned approach to bring the ban into force.

Wet wipes containing plastic break down into microplastics over time, which research shows can be harmful to human health and disrupt our ecosystems – with a recent survey showing an average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100 metres of beach surveyed across the UK.

Once in our water environment, wet wipes containing plastic can accumulate biological and chemical pollutants, increasing the risk of harm to the animals and humans who encounter them.

Banning them will reduce plastic and microplastic pollution and reduce the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment sites when wrongly flushed – meaning beaches and waterways will benefit from the ban.

Responses to the public consultation showed overwhelming support for the proposed ban – which will be introduced via secondary legislation under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 – with 95 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the proposals. The government’s response was published yesterday (22 April) alongside the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive.

The response sets out next steps to deliver the ban, building on action taken across the UK to tackle plastic pollution.

Environment Secretary, Steve Barclay said: “Wet wipes containing plastic are polluting our waterways and causing microplastics to enter the environment. Defra will introduce legislation before the summer recess to crack down on this unnecessary source of pollution, following our successful single-use carrier bag charge and ban on microbeads in personal care products.  

“I have been clear that a step change is needed to protect our waterways from pollution. The ban builds on a raft of actions already taken to protect our waterways and hold water companies accountable – including accelerating investment, putting water company fines back into the environment and quadrupling the number of inspections of water company sites.”

An 18-month transition period will start from when legislation is passed to allow businesses time to prepare. Following consultation with industry, the ban will not include the manufacture of these products, in line with other recent single-use plastic bans.

However, the government will continue to encourage manufacturers to move to a position where all their wet wipes are plastic free.

The government response also sets out exemptions to ensure that wet wipes containing plastic remain available where there is no viable alternative – such as for medical disinfectant purposes. The Government will review the need for these exemptions regularly.


In a statement released on behalf of the UK wet wipes industry, EDANA welcomes the UK Government’s response to the consultation regarding banning plastic in certain wet wipes.

EDANA is the leading global trade association for the nonwovens industry, which includes wet wipes. It represent several wet wipes manufacturers operating in the UK including Essity, Kimberly-Clark, Nice-Pak, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt, and Rockline. As part of its work in the UK, EDANA has a UK Working Group that is closely following wet wipes policies and other issues in the UK.

Gloria Jaconelli, EDANA’s Communication and PR Director, shared the following statement on behalf of the group: “Reducing plastic in the environment is an extremely important goal and this needs to be done whilst also ensuring that parents, carers, businesses, and the NHS can continue to make use of the valuable functions that wet wipes provide regarding hygiene, anti-viral qualities post-COVID-19, helping with care, parenting, and industrial processes.

“Reducing plastic also needs to be done in a way that achieves its environmental objective while avoiding unnecessary UK manufacturing job losses in communities across the UK, which in turn could lead to loss of investment, competitiveness, and innovation.

“In recent years, the UK wet wipes industry has made considerable progress in reducing plastic in consumer wipes, and over half of consumer wet wipes on the market in the UK today are already plastic-free. The four Governments in the UK have taken a considered approach and the proposals set out will build on these efforts. We look forward to working with the four Governments on the implementation and next steps for plastic-free consumer wet wipes in the UK. In the meantime, we welcome the fact that the proposals enable the continued use of the vital functions that wet wipes provide and will allow the industry to continue to innovate and operate without unnecessary job losses and investment in the UK market.

“Building on the major steps that have already been taken towards this, EDANA member companies operating in the UK will move forward to deliver plastic-free consumer wet wipes in compliance with any new Government regulations and in line with the timelines proposed.”

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