By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – April 6, 2017 – Comment

If you think the picture at the right looks monster-like, I’d have to agree. Beyond this photo lies an even more monstrous challenge: putting the brakes on a personal obsession that is expected to drive approximately $9.3 billion in sales by 2018.

I’m talking about disposable wipes—like the ones in this picture being removed from a wastewater treatment plant in Sydney, Australia. Baby wipes. Wet wipes. Disinfecting wipes. They are harming our environment, killing marine life, and compromising water systems with tons of them floating around in sewers and pipelines. These wipes are costing ratepayers millions of dollars for removal, repair and cleanup. Still, people love them for their convenience, comfort and function. Their popularity has skyrocketed over the past decade, with no slowdown in sight. In addition, this is a huge concern for the water industry.

One of the major issues with these wipes is the label “flushable.” If you think about it, many things can be flushed that shouldn’t be. A plastic bottle cap. Cotton balls. A popsicle stick. In fact, many wipes contain the very same ingredients as those items; plastic, cotton and wood pulp! I hope that will make you think twice before flushing a “flushable” wipe again. If that doesn’t do it, check out this astounding video in which a Consumer Reports testing team gave up trying to get a wipe to breakdown in ordinary “flush conditions” as well as in extraordinary conditions. The video should make clear the answer to the question: can I flush my wipes? Absolutely not!

So how can we cut down on the overall usage of wipes? It wasn’t that long ago that human beings made due without them—reports estimate that the origin of today’s wipe only dates back to the mid-1950s. This means our parents and grandparents did just fine raising their children and living their own healthy lifestyles without wipes! The same things they used are still available to us—such as flannel and cotton cloths that can be washed and reused—along with some other discoveries that are more eco-friendly.

Here are a few fun tips I’ve discovered to help wean us off the wipes:

  • Babies: use a soft cloth dampened with plain water. Not only is it better for the environment it’s better for tender young skin. Just store a few in a zip-lock plastic bag and be on your way.
  • Adults: mists are gaining space in consumer markets that transform ordinary toilet tissue into a soothing cleansing wipe with just a single pump.
  • Make up removal: try a soft cloth and olive oil, great for removing makeup and softening skin.
  • Housecleaning: return to the good old fashion dusting cloth and dust mop or wet mop.
  • Window and glass: put that newspaper to work with a chemical-free cleaner for streak-free results

One consumer at a time we can combat the monster that is the disposable wipe—and help mitigate the flood of financial and environmental costs they cause.