Can Biodegradable Wipes Be Flushed?

Mike Davies | Monday, October 5, 2020

There are a rare few biodegradable wipe companies that have manufactured wipes that can be flushed. Your average supermarket wipe may claim on their label to be 'Flushable' or 'Biodegradable' however in most cases they are not. This is due to their composition being made from plastic resins such as polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene, if you see any of these or any type of plastic within the ingredients list on the product, they are not flushable or biodegradable in any sense of the word.

The only types of wipes that may be flushable / biodegradable are wipes that are made from either cotton or rayon fibre, these can also cause problems however they will be far less impactful than the plastic-based wipes. The best advice is to just bin them rather than flushing them.

Are flushable wipes biodegradable?

Not all flushable wipes are biodegradable, this is due to an inconsistency with brands labelling their products as flushable. In fact, if a wipe is truly flushable it will also be biodegradable, the main issue with wipes within our drainage system comes from the strength of the wipes themselves. As these wipes don't break down like normal toilet paper would they get caught in U bends and can quickly tangle up and clog the system.

A flushable wipe will quickly breakdown and appear to disintegrate in water much like toilet paper would. In some instances, it would be the case that if a wipe is truly flushable (which is actually very rare despite what the packaging says) it will also be biodegradable; however, it is important to check the brand online and/or packaging before assuming.

Can Wipes be flushed?

Most wipes despite what the label says cannot be flushed. Only non-plastic-based wipes can be flushed. It is best to put all wipes in the bin if you are totally unsure however the below list of plastics can be found within wipes and if you can see them within the ingredients list, they should be binned rather than flushed.

  • Polyester
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene

Some companies have also managed to use cotton or rayon fibre as the base of there wipe which makes them more biodegradable and possibly flushable; however, it is still worth just binning the wipes over flushing them in almost all instances

How long does it take for biodegradable wipes to degrade?

A lot of products may claim to be biodegradable however in many instances these products are 'technically' biodegradable however they will need to certain environment and process to actually be degraded.

In most instances these types of wipes need extreme conditions to break down, these conditions may be high temperatures with minimal oxygen, or other methods that are not really possible in the real world. In fact, a lot of these flushable and biodegradable wipes actually won't break down in the ocean or in water for years and years, causing the same issues we currently have with everyday plastics.

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