A minister has called on people to avoid using wet wipes amid pressure to ban those containing plastic.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow asked that if members of the public do need to use wet wipes, they do not flush them down the toilet.
Labour MP Fleur Anderson has said a ban on wet wipes containing plastic is “very achievable” and has tabled legislation to bring it about.
But the Putney MP’s Plastics (Wet Wipes) Bill is unlikely to become law without Government support.
Speaking during a session of questions on the environment, food and rural affairs in the Commons, Ms Anderson told MPs: “Billions of wet wipes containing plastic are still being used across the country, causing environmental damage, blocking our sewers.”
She asked the minister to meet her to discuss a potential ban on those containing plastic following the end of a Government consultation on commonly littered single-use plastic items, which included wet wipes, in February.
Ms Pow responded: “Obviously we got a huge response to this call for evidence.
“We are working our way through the details and, of course, we have to make sure that, if a ban is brought in, it doesn’t have knock-on effects that will cause similar problems because, even though other wet wipes might be deemed suitable to flush, they still get stuck in sewers, so we have to be mindful of all of that.
“What I would say to everybody is if you don’t need to use a wet wipe don’t, but also don’t chuck them down the loo.”
Labour MP Andrew Gwynne told MPs the effect of wet wipe pollution on rivers is making them look like a scene from The Nightmare Before Christmas, the 1993 Tim Burton children’s film set in a dark fantasy world.
He said wet wipes are being released into rivers from the sewage system in overflow discharges, causing a build-up of microplastics and littering the River Tame in his Denton and Reddish constituency.
“What is she doing, not just to get the message out not to flush wet wipes down the toilet, but also to clean up our riverbanks so that they don’t look like a horrific scene from a Nightmare Before Christmas?” he asked.
Ms Pow said she agrees it is “revolting”, adding: “That’s why we’re doing all the work, that’s why we’ve done the call for evidence, and we will come up with some suggestions of what we propose to do very shortly.”
Ms Anderson told the PA news agency: “It’s still the case that we use at least 11 billion wet wipes a year, that it is in 90% of material that blocks loos, and it costs £100 million to water companies to clear those blockages.”
Boots and Tesco, she said, have banned plastic in all the wet wipes they sell, adding that for Tesco that amounts to 4.8 billion wet wipes a year.
“If Boots and Tesco can do it, all the manufacturers can do it,” she said.
On the impact on the sewers, she said: “There’s a lack of awareness that flushing them down, they don’t disintegrate, they do stay in the system for a long time. They do go out to the sea, they go on the banks of the Thames.
“There are 30,000 blockages a year because of wet wipes; 90% of those sewage material, according to the water companies, is wet wipes… that costs us money in our water bills.”
She added: “There’s an island the size of two tennis courts and I’ve been and stood on it – it’s near Hammersmith Bridge in the Thames and it’s a metre deep or more in places of just wet wipes… it’s actually changed the course of the River Thames.”
Wet wipe companies, she said, are able to substitute plastic with other materials, adding: “It’s perfectly possible… there are biodegradable alternatives such as bamboo.”
Ms Anderson pointed to the current “confusing packaging”, adding: “That’s why banning any plastic in the manufacture of wet wipes is really important… It’s very confusing for the public, they want to do the right thing.”
Ms Anderson is seeking further consideration of her Bill at second reading on September 16.