Wet wipes clog London's river Thames

Discarded wipes pose serious threat to Thames wildlife.

A huge increase in wet wipes being flushed down London’s toilets has become a “major threat” to wildlife in the river Thames, according to environmental group Thames21.

More than 235 wet wipes per square metre were discovered in a section of the river in the capital's Hammersmith area following a recent survey by Thames21, whose mission is to improve the rivers, canals, ponds and lakes for people and wildlife in Greater London.

The survey, conducted for the third consecutive year, yielded the highest figures yet recorded of the non-biodegradable wipes which, despite warnings printed on their packets, are being flushed down lavatories in increasing numbers.

Conservationists warn that the flushed wipes absorb fats and oils to form collective heaps, or "fatbergs", which can block drains and sewers. The problem in the Thames is so severe - they warn - that the wipes are even changing the shape of the river bed, forming mounds on the inside of bends where the water moves more slowly.

Thames21 says that while incidences of finding plastic bags dumped in the river has decreased over the last 20 years, the phenomenon of wet wipes is much worse. Many of the wipes contain polyester, reinforced by plastic, particles of which can be absorbed by fish, meaning plastic fibres will eventually get into the food chain.