Climate Action

Earth Day: UK-wide ban on wet wipes containing plastic to be put into law

The UK Government will introduce new world-leading legislation to ban wet wipes containing plastic, the Environment Secretary confirms on Earth Day.

  • 23 April 2024
  • Press Release

The UK Government will introduce new world-leading legislation to ban wet wipes containing plastic, the Environment Secretary confirms on Earth Day.

Defra intend to bring forward the legislation for England ahead of summer recess, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following by the autumn as part of an aligned approach to bring the ban into force.

Wet wipes containing plastic break down into microplastics over time, which research shows can be harmful to human health and disrupt our ecosystems – with a recent survey showing an average of 20 wet wipes were found per 100 metres of beach surveyed across the UK

Once in our water environment, wet wipes containing plastic can accumulate biological and chemical pollutants, increasing the risk of harm to the animals and humans who encounter them.

Banning them will reduce plastic and microplastic pollution and reduce the volume of microplastics entering wastewater treatment sites when wrongly flushed – meaning our beaches and waterways will benefit from the ban.

Marking Earth Day 2024, with its theme of ‘Planet vs. Plastics’, the response sets out next steps to deliver the ban, building on action taken across the UK to tackle plastic pollution.   

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: "Wet wipes containing plastic are polluting our waterways and causing microplastics to enter the environment. Defra will introduce legislation before the summer recess to crack down on this unnecessary source of pollution, following our successful single-use carrier bag charge and ban on microbeads in personal care products."

"I have been clear that a step change is needed to protect our waterways from pollution. The ban builds on a raft of actions already taken to protect our waterways and hold water companies accountable - including accelerating investment, putting water company fines back into the environment and quadrupling the number of inspections of water company sites."

Responses to the public consultation showed overwhelming support for the proposed ban – which will be introduced via secondary legislation under our Environmental Protection Act 1990 – with 95% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the proposals. The government’s response has been published today alongside the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive.

Steve Ager, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer at Boots, said: "Boots removed all wet wipes containing plastic from sale in stores and online last year as part of our long-standing commitment to sustainability and working with suppliers and customers to reduce the use of plastic."

"We are pleased to see the government now taking action as a ban on all wet wipes containing plastic will have a much bigger impact than retailers taking action alone. We all have a collective responsibility to protect the environment and support a healthy planet."

Find out more here.