I want you to start throwing things in the bin #binthewipes

Filed in Blog by on January 4, 2021 1 Comment
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lanes group plc whitechapel fatbergA shocking headline, right?

I’m normally the one telling you to STOP throwing things in the bin – to recycle and reuse more.

But not everything fits neatly into a (recycling) box does it?

Like most of you, I’ve been following with interest the stories about the effects of plastic pollution on our environment.

What with birds feeding their young with it, hedgehogs and deer getting caught up in it and turtles eating it by accident, plastic is causing a lot of problems.

But it’s not just animal life.

Our improper disposal of plastics is causing massive issues in our sewers and drains; which can cost one water board up to £12 mil per year to sort out.

Basically, if you pour fats, oils and grease down your kitchen sink (yes, I’m guilty of this), they combine, further along their journey, with the plastics people have flushed down their loos such as wet wipes, condoms and sanitary products to form fatbergs. These fatbergs can trigger flash floods and environmental pollution. Lanes – one of the UK’s leading drainage contractors –  tell me they are called out to tackle 4-600 fatbergs every month!

fatbergs caused by plastic items in sewers

To raise awareness of the issue, Lanes was involved in the removal of the Whitechapel Fatberg, which now defeated is celebrated with its own manhole cover and position on display at the Museum of London:


In a survey, 39% of women admitted to flushing, tampons, pads or panty liners down the toilet and 31% of people have flushed a wet wipe. 10% of men flush condoms down the toilet, and 100,000 cotton buds are flushed through the sewers every week.

fatbergs caused by people flushing things into sewers

But here’s the deal. Manufacturers are telling us it’s ok to flush a wipe. And that it’s ok to flush a panty liner, tampon or sanity towel. But the truth is, it isn’t ok to flush. The only three things that should go down a loo are pee, poop and paper.

So what’s a zero-wasting fatberg-busting person to do? You don’t really want to throw things in the bin after all.

Here are six ways you can protect the environment, reduce fatbergs AND reduce landfill:

Washable nappies

Let’s face it, until recent years, disposable nappies weren’t an option. Sadly, many new parents don’t realise that washable nappies are an option! When people ask me about them, I point out that if King Henry VIII had worn disposables, they’d still be in landfill now. Some councils offer a trial service, where you can try different options and see which work best for you.

Clean your ears the zero waste way!

There are plenty of plastic free options now for keeping your ears clean. You can buy reusable cotton buds, mini metal ‘spoons’, those made from bamboo and cotton and if ear wax is an issue for you there are companies like Auris Ear Care who offer microsuction, that is considered to be the safest, cleanest and most efficient method of ear wax removal. Not to mention there is no plastic for you to dispose of!

Biodegradable wet wipes

Personally, I never used wet wipes on my daughter either – more through my reluctance to spend money if I’m honest, but hey, if that’s your motivation it still helps. If you are not ready to give up wet wipes, switch to a biodegradable wipes which you can compost.

Make your own

Make up wipes, bum wipes, floor wipes, furniture polish wipes – is there anything we can’t get in wipe form these days? Yes they’re handy but they’re also expensive. Why not use washable cloths and flannels for everything and bank the £63 a year you’ll save? Check out this post for a number of alternatives to shop-bought wipes.

Plastic free period

Swap disposable sanitary items for plastic free products such as washable pads or the Mooncup. You’ll save heaps of money in the long run and prevent thousands of disposable items being washed up on a beach or languishing in landfill. Remember, you’re not supposed to flush them, so if you use them, you’ll need to bin them.

Compost or recycle your oil

Tempting as it is to pour used oil down the sink, it’s time to change your habits. Some household recycling centres have drop off points for used cooking oil. You can check your’s here. If you’ve just for a bit of oil in the bottom of your frying pan, it’s ok to wipe it out with kitchen towel then compost it.

What about you – did you know the problems oil and plastic items cause when they enter our sewers? If you want to raise awareness, read more on the Lanes website and join me on social media with the hashtags #binthewipes and #sinnerorbinner

fatbergs caused by disposable wipes in sewers


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (1)

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  1. Cyndi (aka Small Footprints) says:

    Hi Mrs. Green – this is a wonderful post! I did not know that oil and plastic reek havoc when they meet. While we’ve tried to eliminate plastic from our lives, I’ve found that in recent years, environmental progress, in our area, has diminished. In fact, in some respects, I’d say that it has done a turn-around. So avoiding plastic has become a real challenge. Still, we try to avoid it and when that’s not possible, we try to shop with a re-use in mind. Disposing of oil is an interesting problem. Our recycling programs are no longer accepting most items so I’m guessing that they aren’t going to accommodate oil recycling. That said, I’ll be digging deeper to see what’s available. I’ll also be contacting our waste management people to see what they suggest. Hope you are doing well, Mrs. Green! 🙂

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