Record number of wet wipes in the Thames

Record number of wet wipes in the Thames



A record 23,000 wet wipes were counted and removed from one stretch of the Thames foreshore in just two hours at the end of March.

473 bin bags of wet wipes were removed from the foreshore in Barnes, West London on Saturday the 23rd March by 160 Thames’ 21 volunteers. They were there as part of a mass citizen science event to monitor the impact of plastic on the Capital’s river. Many wet wipes, even those marketed as flushable, contain plastic fibres and therefore do not break down.

The latest data shows that the so-called ‘Thames Great Wet Wipe Reef’ is growing. Bathymetric surveys, published for the first time, reveal that one of the largest mounds, in front of St Paul’s School in Barnes, has grown by 0.7m in the past few years, and is now 50m wide, 17m long and stands at more than 1m high.

The foreshore at Barnes contains nine large mounds, which look natural, but are formed from a thick plastic wet wipe mesh mixed up with mud from the river. Thames21 volunteers were at the site to measure the density of the wet wipes on the surface of the mounds in order to chart changes over time. The average density was a worrying 201 wet wipes per square metre. Four other similar sites exist along the Thames riverbank in London.

“The growing wet wipe market is damaging our capital’s river, turning stretches of it into a Frankenstein foreshore, part plastic part natural,” said Alice Hall, coordinator of Thames21’s award-winning Thames River Watch citizen science monitoring programme, which organised the event. “Our rivers are becoming plastic rubbish dumps: millions of wet wipes, which often contain plastic, being flushed down loos, and then discharged into our rivers when the sewers can’t cope. We’ve seen the mounds growing very fast over the past few years.”

Photo Credit: Thames 21


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