Are wipes this year’s plastic bags?

You don't have to be a hippie do-gooder knitting your own lentils to hate wipes

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By Sali Hughes on

Wet wipes are taking over the world, apparently. Once confined only to newborn bottoms, the small synthetic sheets of fabric are now used in their billions to wipe our own backsides, to take off our make-up, to keep our “feminine area fresh”, to clean kitchen tops and ceramic tiles, sanitise our kids’ toys, freshen our hands after travelling on public transport or merely eating a sandwich, and a hundred other entirely pointless applications.

The problem is that wet wipes are now causing over 75 per cent of sewer blockages (they adhere to congealed cooking grease to produce enormous “fatbergs” that cause entire sewers to back up and potentially flood entire towns with crap. Which is nice), costing the rate payer millions of pounds a year and, most tragically, were found last week to be the number-one culprit in destroying the cleanliness of our British beaches. Our consumption of these non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, non-compostable squares is up by a staggering 50 per cent. In America, where wet-wipe use has also reached fever pitch, the New York sewerage system has been brought to its knees by idiots flushing wet wipes down the loo, where they cannot be broken down like toilet paper. Even those disposing of their wipes in a more responsible manner are contributing to an already out-of-control landfill rate.

Few things make me crosser than wipes. And no, I’m not a hippie do-gooder knitting my own lentils and bathing with a washboard and cold rainwater. I have wipes in the house. I very occasionally use them for managing one of my children’s particularly stressful toilet visits (and used them very frequently when they were babies); I sometimes clean my laptop keys with an anti-bac wipe; I’ve used the odd cleansing cloth on a long flight or at festivals – and on every occasion I’ve tossed them in the bin afterwards. There are undoubtedly times, in extremis, when a wipe is a lifesaver. But an everyday alternative to perfectly good tap water (ours is officially the safest and cleanest in the world, by the way) they are not.

Ask yourself if your hands and vagina really need to smell like a Glade Plug-in to pass muster

Removing make-up properly with a cleanser and a hot, wrung-out washable terry flannel is not just environmentally sound, it’s by far the most effective and glow-giving way to take care of your skin. By contrast, wipes mostly move dirt around your face, while drying out your skin. Using wipes daily is effectively like only washing your clothes in Febreze. Similarly, “sanitising” toys and household surfaces with anti-bac wipes has consistently been found in practice to be less effective than old-fashioned soap and water. And for what? So we don’t have to suffer the inconvenience of wetting a dishcloth under the kitchen tap, or nipping to the ladies’ for a post-burger handwash?

We may like to kid ourselves that in being bone idle, we’re actually being hygienic, but our nan’s approach was without question the cleaner one.The appeal of wipes is a combination of our laziness and the relentlessness of marketeers looking for a new way for us to part with our money, however unnecessary the product in anything but an emergency. Wipes are basically the bottled water of the noughties – a corporate brainchild that somehow made itself a staple of every day life, at huge cost to normal people and the world we live in. How embarrassing for us that we so readily bought in to something so largely unnecessary.

I often think that one day our descendants will look back at the glory years, where the developed world had effectively limitless clean water at the turn of a tap, and wonder what on earth possessed us to leave it where it was and go out and spend money on wipes and mineral water instead. They will rightly think that ours is the generation that completely lost its mind over water. But it’s not too late to make changes. Leave wipes off your shopping list, buy a flannel, sponge and J-cloth instead. Accept that germs are part of life and we don’t need to live in an antibacterial bubble to be clean-living. Ask yourself if your hands and vagina really need to smell like a Glade Plug-in to pass muster. If we’re honest with ourselves and mindful of our collective impact, we can all but wipe these things out.

Picture: Getty

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