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Wet wipes polluting a UK beach. Photograph: Marine Conservation Society/PA
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Tesco to stop selling baby wipes that contain plastic in first for UK supermarkets

Retailer is also Britain’s biggest seller of wet wipes, with customers purchasing 75m packs a year.

Tesco is to become the first of the main UK retailers to stop selling baby wipes containing plastic, which cause environmental damage as they block sewers and waterways after being flushed by consumers.

The supermarket said it was stopping sales of branded baby wipes containing plastic from 14 March, about two years after it ceased using plastic in its own-brand products.

The UK’s largest grocer is also the country’s biggest seller of baby wipes. Its customers purchase 75m packs of baby wipes every year, amounting to 4.8bn individual wipes.

Tesco said it had been working to reformulate some of the other own-label and branded wipes its sells to remove plastic, including cleaning wipes and moist toilet tissue. It said its only kind of wipe that still contained plastic – designed to be used for pets – would also be plastic-free by the end of the year.

Tesco began to remove plastic from its own-brand wet wipes in 2020, when it switched to biodegradable viscose, which it says breaks down far more quickly.

Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s group quality director, said: “We have worked hard to remove plastic from our wipes as we know how long they take to break down.”

Tesco is not the first retailer to remove wipes from sale on environmental grounds. Health food chain Holland and Barrett said it was the first high-street retailer to ban the sale of all wet-wipe products from its 800 UK and Ireland stores in September 2019, replacing the entire range with reusable alternatives. The Body Shop beauty chain has also phased out all face wipes from its shops.

It is estimated that as many as 11bn wet wipes are used in the UK each year, with the majority containing some form of plastic, many of which are flushed down the toilet, causing growing problems for the environment.

Wet wipes are a significant component of fatbergs, like this one in a sewer in the town of Sidmouth, England. Photograph: South West Water/AP

Last November, MPs heard how wet wipes are forming islands, causing rivers to change shape as the products pile up on their banks, while marine animals are dying after ingesting microplastics.

They are also a significant component of the fatbergs that form in sewers, leading to blockages that require complex interventions to remove.

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A woman picks up plastic cups along the riverbank of Pasig river, in Manila, Philippines, June 10, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David


Three in four people worldwide want single-use plastics to be banned as soon as possible, according to a poll released on Tuesday, as United Nations members prepare to begin talks on a global treaty to rein in soaring plastic pollution.

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, February 6, 2022. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS


Dumping plastic in waterways is “criminal” and must end if humanity wants to save the planet for future generations, Pope Francis said in a television interview on Sunday.

Tesco said any wipes it sold that could not be flushed down the toilet were clearly labelled “do not flush”.

Nevertheless, environmental campaigners and MPs have long called on retailers to do more to remove plastics from their products and packaging.

The supermarket said it was trying to tackle the impact of plastic waste as part of its “4Rs” packaging strategy, which involves it removes plastic waste where possible, or reducing it, while looking at ways to reuse more and recycle.

The chain said it had opened soft plastic collection points in more than 900 stores, and had launched a reusable packaging trial with shopping service Loop, which delivers food, drink and household products to consumers in refillable containers.



Joanna Partridge at The Guardian

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