It’s a fact: wipes are bad for you and the planet. Here’s why, and what you can do about it
By Bec Gregory
There’s no denying that after using makeup all day and living in a polluted city, wipes make daily cleaning tasks easier and speedier.
They’re not just useful for taking off makeup and creams, though. Wipes are also convenient for everything from wiping our babies’ bottoms to cleaning our kitchen worktops. They’re cheap, easy to travel with, pleasant to use, and they’re now available for almost every cleaning task you can think of. You can even buy some products, such as self-tanners, in wipe form. And some sheet-style facial masks are made of the same material as wipes, too.
But we all know there’s a price to pay for convenience, and the cost to our health and the environment is way too high to pay. In fact, wipes are bad for you and the planet for so many reasons.
Wet wipe use is off the charts
First off, let’s just admit our astronomical use of wipes is out of control. Friends of the Earth inform us that the US manufacturer, Nice-Pak produce 125 billion wipes a year alone. Whoa! That number of wipes would stretch to the moon and back more than 24 times. And that’s just one manufacturer in a booming global industry.
These ultra-convenient wipes are wreaking havoc on our water waste systems, killing marine life and harming our health. The extent of their use is truly mind-blowing. Read on to learn more about why we must ditch wipes for good.
What are they made of?
Wipes are “nonwoven” textiles, and as the name suggests, unlike traditional cloths that are woven together, these cloths are instead fused together using resins, chemicals, or pressure.
They are comprised of a blend of natural and synthetic fibrous materials. The natural material is generally cellulose, and the synthetic material is plastic, such as polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The plastic provides strength, while the cellulose fibres give absorbency and softness.
Depending on the use of the wipe, the blend ratio will vary. For example, stronger wipes for cleaning (more plastic) and softer ones for skincare (more cellulose).
Cellulose might sound relatively unharmful, being the stuff plants are made of. But it’s “regenerated cellulose” that is used in wipes, which is made by processing natural plant fibres to form cloth-like materials. It’s currently unclear if these processed materials do or don’t biodegrade, and if so, over how long.
What’s in wipes?
Unsurprisingly, the labelling of wet wipes fails to identify the textile materials. So when reading the label, you’ll only find the ingredients of the wet mixture added to the substrate. Again, this will obviously differ depending on the application of the wipe.
And there’s no good news coming here. Skincare wipes contain water and a cocktail of synthetic chemicals, including fragrance, alcohol, and parabens. Sure, some minuscule amounts of aloe or rose might be added. But if you’re looking for skin-loving natural ingredients, you won’t find them here!
Cleaning wipes also contain harsh detergents and disinfectants, which include known allergens, pollutants, and even carcinogens.
Why are these cloths so bad for the planet?
You may remember hearing back in 2018 that wipes would be banned for polluting the environment. We wouldn’t blame you for thinking that manufacturers must have quickly responded to this by removing the plastic and developing environmentally friendly, biodegradable wipes. But sadly, that just isn’t the case.
One of the biggest problems with wipes is their inappropriate disposal down the toilet instead of in the bin. You must have heard of ‘fatbergs’ by now, right? I’m talking about those disgusting monstrosities blocking up sewers made of wet wipes, oils, and other filth. In 2017, Water UK discovered that 93% of the material causing sewer blockages were wet wipes.
And the issue goes way beyond blocking up wastewater systems. Wipes are forming new riverbeds around the world. They are finding their way into our oceans, adding to the microplastic pollution crisis and causing long-term harm to sea creatures and the marine environment.
Worse, the global distribution and use of wipes are only increasing, with the non-woven textile industry projected for massive growth.
Let’s imagine if we all started correctly disposing of wipes by putting them in the bin and sending them off to landfill. The problem with these cloths doesn’t just stop there.
As we all know, plastic is practically indestructible and only gradually decomposes into smaller particles, polluting the land, rivers, and oceans and entering the food chains of wildlife and humans.
Furthermore, experts have warned that wipes may take up to 100 years to decompose.
Why are wipes bad for health?
Firstly, the undesirable ingredients found in cosmetic and baby wipes, such as the ones mentioned above, can cause allergies.
This has become particularly prevalent in babies due to many moms using wipes on their babes literally daily.
Signs of allergies to baby wipes include persistent nappy rash, a scaly, itchy rash on any part of the body where wipes are used, and bumps and blisters.
But the chemicals in these cloths can also cause myriad other issues, ranging from hormonal disruption to cancer, in the long run.
And if you think wipes are keeping your baby clean, think again. In 2010 and 2011, some brands of baby wiping products were recalled because they were contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Reject wipes by opting for the following healthier, eco-friendly options:
Skin cleansing alternatives
Cleanse your face and eyes with a natural oil such as moringa or jojoba using your fingers. Remove using a dampened soft cloth, a natural fibre sponge or 100% organic cotton rounds. Follow with your usual skincare routine.
- Reusable cloth wipes
- Reusable soft cloths
- 100% organic cotton rounds
- Natural fibre sponges
- Reusable flannels for hands and face
Simply dampen any of the above with water. Alternatively, add a few drops of tea tree oil to a spray bottle of water and use that to wet your cloth. This will have anti-bacterial properties.
Keep your soiled items in a compostable bag and wash them when you return home.
Just use double layered toilet tissue and a water spray bottle.
Household cleaning alternatives
Nothing is better than using reusable cleaning cloths to clean dust, and a mop for your floors. Your old clothes can be torn up into cleaning rags. Circular!
Antibacterial cloth alternatives
We recommend stopping the use of antibacterial cloths completely. Why? Because overusing antibacterial agents could lead to life-saving antibiotics no longer working. The war on bacteria is a war on us, since we have more microbial cells than human cells.
Instead, wet a face cloth with water, then spritz with colloidal silver. Safe and effective!
Please share this article with your family, friends, and social network to help increase awareness of the dangers of these cloths to human health and the environment.
What healthier alternatives to wipes do you use? Please share below; we’d love to know!
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