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Discarded Wet Wipes Are Changing the Shape of London’s River Thames

The river's banks are growing thanks to giant clumps of wet wipes mixed with twigs and mud.

Wikimedia

More than 5,000 discarded wet wipes are changing the shape of the River Thames, according to a London environmental organization. Thames 21, a non-profit that cleans rivers and canals around the city, said its volunteers pulled 5,453 wipes from a small area of the river embankment near Hammersmith last month, an increase of more than 1,000 wipes compared to the same time last year.

“You need to go at low tide to see the mounds forming,” said Kirsten Downer, a member of Thames 21. “The Thames riverbed is changing. Wet wipes are accumulating and affecting the shape of the riverbed. It looks natural but when you get close you can see that these clumps are composed of wet wipes mixed with twigs and mud.”

Wet wipes have become a massive industry in the U.K. with baby wipes leading the charge. But the increased use has come with certain environmental costs. The main problem is that many people assume all wipes, baby or otherwise, are flushable, when in fact most are not biodegradable and should never be put in the toilet. Last December, it was discovered that 93 percent of all sewage blockages in Great Britain were due to wet wipes. And the ones that weren’t blocking the sewer were making it into the river, and not just the Thames.

“We want people to realize that this is not just happening on the Thames, but on rivers and canals all around the country,” said Downer.