Tangled wet wipes 'change course of Thames' and prompt warning for Londoners

The city's almost nine million inhabitants are being urged to not flush wipes down the toilet

A laser scan of the River Thames shows a mass of tangled wet wipes deposited on the bank near Hammersmith Bridge. Photo: Thames21
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A huge mass of wet wipes measuring the size of two tennis courts has changed the course of London’s River Thames, sparking calls for the hygiene items to be banned.

The government is considering a ban on wet wipes containing plastic in an attempt to cut pollution and prevent pipes being blocked.

The metre-high clump of tangled wipes is lodged in the bank of the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge.

The severity of the situation prompted Environmental Minister Rebecca Pow to issue a call to Londoners in the House of Commons.

"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,” she said.

Wet wipes make up about 90 per cent of so-called “fatbergs”, which wreak havoc on sewage systems and waterways. Such build-ups of grease and household waste have in recent years been blamed for blockages.

Labour MP Fleur Anderson said accumulations of wet wipes were changing the shape of rivers.

“There’s a lack of awareness that flushing them down, they don’t disintegrate, they do stay in the system for a long time,” Ms Anderson said during a session of questions on the environment, food and rural affairs in the Commons.

“They do go out to the sea, they go on the banks of the Thames.

“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 Thames.”

Earlier this year, Boots said by the end of the year it would stop selling wipes containing plastic.

Unlike toilet paper, which easily breaks down in sewage systems, wet wipes are made of tough components that cause the sheets to tangle with each other after being flushed down the toilet.

Materials such as polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, or rayon fibres are used in the making of wet wipes. Therefore, the tangled masses found in pipes and rivers are actually accumulations of plastics moulded together by fats, oils and greases, which make the mound hard and difficult to move.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 10:58 AM