We’re Wiping Out the Planet

There comes a time when we have to ask ourselves what all the convenience of modern living is costing us. Not in terms of what we pay at the store, necessarily (though we do pay more for convenience items, almost always) — but, in terms of the cost to our planet.

Wipes are a perfect example.

They are everywhere. There’s a wipe for just about every purpose — household and hygiene, garage, outdoors, work place. Wipes are ubiquitous. If it can be taken off, there’s a wipe for it — fanny wipes, make-up wipes, cleaning wipes, degreasing wipes. If it can be put on, there’s a wipe to do it — sunscreen wipes, bug spray wipes, moisturizer wipes, antiseptic wipes.

They are not harmless. As a matter of fact, they’re pretty heinous in lots of ways.

Let’s start with this — most of them do not biodegrade. The majority are not made with materials meant to break down the way paper does. They are made with materials that make them resilient and hard-working, which means materials that stay around in landfills for years and years.

“The vast majority of wet wipes contain microplastic fibres which do not biodegrade in the environment.”1

And, as outlined in this article in The Atlantic, they cause major problems with our sewer systems. We may think that we can trust the ones that are labeled “flushable,” but the truth is just as murky as the sewer lines that are clogged with these menaces: “As of 2013, to be labeled “flushable,” a wet wipe must pass seven tests that evaluate its ability to disintegrate, biodegrade, and clear household and municipal sewer lines. But there is no penalty or fine if a wet-wipe manufacturer doesn’t comply. The industry is self-regulated, without government oversight.” No government oversight means lots of companies continue to use the word “flushable” on packaging for wipes that are no such thing.

“Some brands of the wet wipes…are labeled ‘flushable.’ The problem is that they’re really not….And they are causing havoc with our underground sewer systems all across the country.”2

photo of wipes removed from sewer
Wipes removed from a sewer in Michigan. [photo | Macomb County Public Works]

“Just because you can flush something down the toilet does not mean it is good for the environment or society to do so.”3

And then there’s the problem of the packaging wipes come in. It’s hard to think of a product that generates as much plastic waste. Plastic tubs and pop-up containers. Single-use wipe packets. Travel wipe packets. None of it breaks down in a landfill and very little of it is recyclable or gets recycled. Most of it gets tossed (sometimes flushed) and continues in our landfills and oceans for hundreds of years.

unbranded wipe container
These things are a plastic packaging nightmare!

Think about it this way: The package that currently houses the wipes you are using on the baby’s bottom will still be here when that baby’s babies’ are wiping their own babies’ bottoms.

And the truly sickening thing is…wipes are completely unnecessary. We have invented a “need” for them based on our own laziness and preoccupation with convenience. When, really, it’s not even all that inconvenient to use a rag, wash cloth, or other reusable material/method to achieve the same purpose.

You know what we used to wipe baby’s butts with before “baby wipes”? Reusable, washable cloths. Fine for baby. So much better for the environment. Instead of “Booty Wipes”? Toilet paper (you can even get recycled or bamboo TP now), or better yet — a bidet. Instead of make-up wipes? A washcloth. Instead of cleaning wipes? A rag.

It’s simple: Find a reusable alternative.

Hard to put this any more succinctly than this — if we really want to make an easy change in our daily lives that’s better for the environment, we should quit with the wipes, already.

[header photo | LRS]

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