Flushed with a lack of success

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, and mum of four, Fleur Anderson, commented on R4s Today programme that wet wipes were “really essential.”

I beg to differ.

Of course, they’re convenient (so is McDonald’s, that doesn’t licence daily indulgence). Yes, they’re effective (boasting reams of bacterial-combating properties), however, there are many more cost-effective alternatives. They do provide a ‘quick fix,’ when you’re in a messy fix, however, so is rewarding a child with sweeties and we all know that that one comes back to bite the parental hand.

I’m proud to say I’ve never used a wet wipe and not, then as a new mum (we’re in the teen zone now) having crystal-ball foresight for concerns of the product’s onward journey, but that of its potentially toxic properties on vulnerable young skin.

A lifespan of single-digit seconds has never been part of my consumerism philosophy, but far greater concern were the scarily unpronounceable properties, frequently including Polysorbate 20 (known to cause skin reactions); Sodium Benzoate (a cause of organ system toxicity) and that bad-boy of the chemical classroom, Parabens, linked to hormonal disruption and even cancer.

Local, pre-loaded chemical-free soap, on a wet flannel – well, three actually – in separate, zipped, freezer bags accompanied us on our myriad childhood outings. Even touring Australia’s east coast with a two-year-old included this kit. Along with the peanut butter-smeared tee-shirts and grass-stained romper suits, close-of-play saw flannels one, two and usually, three, given a cursory scrub with hot water in the sink, soaked overnight in a few drops of tea tree oil, ready to roll for the following onslaught. Tah dah.

Before you think I’m climbing too far up the moral high ground, I’m a single, working mum. There have been many brilliant times, but also several terrifying ones. Time and money have always been an issue. Fewer trips to the shops, a reduction in racked-up purchases, less waste to haul out to the bin on a wet Scottish night; they’ve all been welcome.

It’s estimated eleven billion wipes float-off down our drains, causing expensive sewer-blocking ‘bergs’ en route, and are ploughed into landfill every year, and that’s just in the UK. 90% of these include non-compostable properties, destined for tiny marine mouths.

“Look for the packet’s ‘fine to flush’ symbol” said Ms Anderson.

Again, sorry Fleur, I disagree: far better not to use them in the first place. Wipe, wash, reuse, like nappies.

The world’s one-stop-shop approach to consumerism is a well-documented environmental catastrophe. From the (very late!) 1960s, my own Terry Towelling nappies still stalk the household as floor cloths and paw-wipers.

Babies watch, learn and mimic from birth so let’s open their eyes to circular consumerism use as soon as we can.


Mairi Fraser November 2021

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