UK Water industry wages war against wet wipes

12 December 2017

Northumbrian Water is joining the whole UK water industry in waging a war against wet wipes.

Following the biggest ever in-depth investigation of sewer blockages in the UK, it has been revealed that wipes are the main problem when it comes to blocked pipes, causing misery and financial hardship to thousands of households who suffer from sewer flooding every year.

Nationally, around 93% of the material causing sewer blockages was made up of wipes - including a high proportion of baby wipes - which are not designed to be flushed. It’s estimated that the blockage problem costs the country £100million every year, money which could be spent on lower bills or improving services instead.

Less than 1% of the domestic waste in the blockages was identified as made up of products which are designed to be flushed, such as toilet paper.

Locally the problem is just as bad; between April and November this year the company has seen 7,231 blockages in the network and more than two thirds of these have been down to wipes and fats and grease being wrongly flushed down the loo.

Northumbrian Water Wastewater Director Richard Warneford said: “The local picture in the North East mirrors the findings nationally, in that the majority of our blockages are caused by wet wipes and unflushables having been incorrectly flushed down the toilet.

“Using technology and data, we can identify postcode areas where repeat blockages occur and even pinpoint them to specific customer properties. These are then the areas where we concentrate our customer education campaigns, like in South Shields and South East Darlington, as we hope by educating these customers about correct wet wipe disposal we can work together to reduce blockages.

“The whole water industry is getting behind this report and now is the time people need to take notice and think about what they are doing.

“The perception is that putting these ‘flushable’ wet wipes down the pan is fine, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. These little white sheets cause so much damage to our networks, your plumbing and are often the reason behind peoples’ homes being flooded. And, that’s not even touching on the problems they cause to the environment.

The investigation of 54 sewer blockages across the UK forms the main part of the report published today titled ‘The Wipes in Sewer Blockage Study’. It was jointly funded and supported by Water UK, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, EDANA. EDANA is the trade association for the nonwovens industry, which includes the wipes sector.

They found that around a quarter of a million properties suffer sewer flooding caused by blockages every year in the UK and the new research shows that most of these incidents could be avoided by the wipes being disposed of properly rather than being flushed down toilets.

Rae Stewart of Water UK, which represents all of the water and sewage companies in the UK, said:

“This study proves beyond doubt that wipes are the main cause of sewer blockages, and that means it’s a problem we can all do something about. Water companies spend billions of pounds every year making our water and sewerage services world class, but our sewerage system is just not designed to handle things like baby wipes which don’t break down in water. The good news is that by taking action we can stop the misery people face when their homes are flooded with raw sewage.

“There are things that water companies can do, such as improve education about what should and shouldn’t be flushed. There are things manufacturers can do, such as make labelling clearer on non-flushable products. And, of course, there are things individuals can do – which is bin the wipes rather than flush them.”

The report, and further information, can be found at

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