TRIGGER WARNING: this piece contains the word “moist”. Steel yourself, chin up, best foot forward, and read on.
Quick digression 1
I’ve been on holiday. And I’ve been massively down in the dumps for reasons too complicated to write here. The state of the world hasn’t helped. So I took a break from doing this because it’s a lot of work. But I am back at the helm now, trying to persuade you to save the world one product / idea at a time. (For the record – I’ve found St. John’s Wort very effective.)
Back to wipes!
A wipe, in short, is a moist towelette that has been impregnated with chemicals and cleansing agents. And lordy lordy, there are moist towelettes for every occasion. Here’s a list of available which I do not claim to be anything like comprehensive.
- Whiteboard wipes for the office/school. So no-one gets to be blackboard monitor and experience the joy of bashing the cleaner thingy with a ruler and seeing clouds of chalk fill the air. Shame.
- Wipes for electronic cleaning. I just use a slightly damp duster.
- “Washlets” for people with a neurosis about their botty hygiene and too lazy to wash themselves with soap and a flannel.
- Sterile moist wound-cleansing wipes that meet current HSE regulations. Actually, I’ll concede that these are necessary.
- Antibacterial wipes for the food industry. Vinegar and a very hot clean cloth would do just as well – the moment after you wipe a surface, bacteria in the air will settle back down on it.
- Wipes for removal of adhesives, sealants, oils, paints & grease. Remember Grandad’s oily rag? Same thing but it comes in a plastic packet and you throw it it away immediately.
- Facial cleanser wipes. FFS, what’s wrong with make-up remover and cotton wool?
- Intimate wipes for feminine cleansing. Grrrrrrr – yet another way to make women feel insecure about their femaleness.
- Baby wipes. Water and a soft cloth infinitely preferable, but we’ll get to that.
- Toddler wipes. Yes, different from baby wipes. So a mum with a toddler and a newborn is suckered into buying two different types of wipes.
- Pet care grooming wipes. My terrier, Piper, wouldn’t thank you, a good rub in horse manure is on her Christmas Wish List.
- Washlets, and other moist toilet tissue. In other words, botty wipes for using in tandem with dry toilet tissue – or perhaps instead of?
- Cage cleaning wipes for pets’ cages. Never heard of a hose?
- Individually wrapped restaurant wipes. Bring back the finger bowl!
- Jumbo ear wipes for cats and dogs. Yes, honestly!
- Glass and window wipes. Newspaper and vinegar is so much better!
- Tushie wipes for cats and dogs. These really exist. FFS…!
And there are more, but you get my drift. You are paying for a small wet flannel with chemicals. A small wet flannel which you will then throw away.
Every single one of these (except the sterile ones for wounds) is replaceable by a small WASHABLE flannel (or towel, cut up t-shirt, piece of ancient sheeting etc) WITHOUT chemicals. A small wet flannel which you can pop into your washing machine and use again. And again. Etcetera.
Quick digression 2
Yes, I know it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the crazy political situation here in the UK. My friends in other countries are just as glued to the horror as we are. However, my opinion is that environmental destruction is by far the most important issue the world has to face, so do tear yourself away from Brexit for a moment and bend your mind to wipes!
What is a wipe?
In the past, cloth was always woven or knitted with yarn that interlocked or interwove. Not so with wipes. They are not flannels, nor are they tissues for that matter. They are made by pressing a mass of separate fibres together to make a single sheet of material. A huge range of different fibres are used, but as far as I understand it, natural fibres are necessary for the absorbency and non-biodegradable plastic derivatives are added for strength.
Yes, plastic. Almost all wipes contain plastics, which then degrade down to microplastics. And those don’t go anywhere. They will linger in the sea and the soil long after we are all dead. Recent reasearch shows that earthworms don’t prosper in soil containing high proportions of plastic contaminants.
“Scientists found that worms placed in soil loaded with high density polyethylene (HDPE) – a common plastic used for bags and bottles – for 30 days lost about 3% of their body weight, compared with a control sample of similar worms placed in similar soil without HDPE, which put on 5% in body weight over the same period.”https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/12/worms-fail-to-thrive-in-soil-containing-microplastics-study?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR3OTDpUJdsP4dEy6-fE-yejuAMZPNWY-cFRrexmSx6KiqonGxEIulUwwak
If you don’t care about that (you should, because healthy soil is vital for growing the crops that feed us), then you should care about the fact that YOU are now almost definitely host to microplastics. It’s almost definitely in your poop, for instance. The threat to human health is only now beginning to be understood.
The life of a wipe…
… is a great deal longer than the few seconds of its use, as fatbergs have conclusively proved. The plastic based fibres will take HUNDREDS of years to decompose. Photographs of fatbergs don’t really show the scale of the horror, so here’s another image of waste to haunt your dreams.
Just in case you’ve emerged from 10 years with a contemplative order of Visitandine nuns (a rare breed), a fatberg is an agglomeration of gubbins and goo that gathers in sewers and constipates our waste disposal systems.
Wipes are estimated to make up 93% of the contents of these fatbergs. The rest is mostly other debris, like tissues and poop stuck between wipes. And fat. Tons of fat glueing it all together. That’s the fat you pour down the sink instead of letting it cool and disposing of it with your food waste… grr!!!
Should you assume this is a big city problem, on 8th January this year (2019) a vast fatberg the size of 6 London buses was found under a children’s playground in dear old Sidmouth.
Sidmouth, if you’ve never been there, is a charming, sleepy, seaside town in Devon on the South Coast of the UK. The population is about 13,000. It has never done anything more contentious than hold a yearly folk festival when a few thousand crusties descend on the town for a week of music, cider, decent ale and country dancing. In other words, the least likely people on the planet to be hornswoggled into using pesky things like wipes.
So if little old Sidmouth can produce a gigantic fatberg, WTF is lurking under us all right now?
The taxpayer. You and me, baby. You are paying for the wipes, and then you’re paying a specialist company to get rid of it, lump by festering lump. They are massive health hazards. Do you want waste water full of poo flooding into your gardens. Can you imagine the health hazard to EVERYTHING in the area? You, your family, your pets, your neighbours, the wildlife…
About 300,000 fatbergs have to be removed in the UK every year. This costs the country about £100m. I think you will agree that this money could be put to much better use elsewhere, don’t you?
Add this thought – because people can’t be bothered to wash their cleaning cloths – it’s so much easier to chuck ’em! – some poor devils have to clean all this hellish detritus away.
Ho hum. Compostable claims are deeply debatable. Even the company Natracare, which aims to provide personal hygiene products without any damaging ingredients, admits on its website that you shouldn’t flush compostable wipes down the lavvy. This is because the wipe isn’t going to decompose quickly enough to avoid attracting all that fat and poop and thus help create another fatberg and start the whole revolting cycle all over again.
And search as I might, I cannot find any evidence of genuinely compostable wipes, because the packaging always seems to be made of plastic. If they weren’t kept inside some sort of plastic packaging, they would dry out which would entirely negate the point of the ruddy wipes in the first place.
So it’s all very well making the wipes biodegradable, but if the packaging is plastic another problem is created. Because you CANNOT divorce the contents from the packaging.
Moist wipes are impregnated with all sorts of chemicals which I’m not going to go into now because each brand of wipes is different and it would take me till the end of eternity to research them all. And you would hate me for boring you.
But these are chemicals over which you have no control. And you are wiping your baby’s bum/your face/your hands/your arse with these chemicals. All extremely sensitive areas. There are strong links between baby wipes in part contributing to food allergies in children, and allergic skin reactions and dermatitis caused by other sorts of wipes. I myself broke out in a horrible rash when I foolishly used some cleansing wipes some years ago.
And if you’re still not convinced, even the well-meaning company, Water Wipes, which prides itself on making the purest baby wipes going and aims to make a 100% biodegradable wipe by 2023 (!!!), advises that you should NOT use wipes on newborns and young infants… So why do they make them then, if they think it’s wrong to use them?
You could purchase a pile of cheap towelling flannels, and then use the creams, unguents or solvents you actually need – not all the other chemicals they need to keep the little rags stable and moist. Then you can throw them in the wash after use. And then use them again.
What you will save
- The planet.
- Quite a lot of money, depending on the number and type of wipes you are in the habit of purchasing.
- Your sensitive skin
And finally, a Piper story…
I might as well fess up. I once used three small packets of wipes in one hit.
It was in Sheffield, where I was gigging at the Lyceum. Piper, my Patterdale terrier, was on tour with me and I took her for a walk in the nearest open space I could find, which was the other side of the railway. The dear little minx rewarded me by rolling in some freshly plopped fox poo.
The whiff you get off fox poo is unspeakably mephitic. Think dead rat mixed with asparagus wee with some notes of rancid ham and cheese. It was the smelliest smell I’d ever smelt.
Walking back throught the station was mortifying. People jumped in alarm as their schnozzles were suddenly assaulted by the sudden stench. They checked the soles of their shoes. They clasped their hands to their mouths in wide-eyed horror, they staggered back and reeled hither and yon. Unfortunately, light brown fox poo shows up beautifully on a long, black, curly coat so it was pretty easy to identify the culprit. Normally, Miss Pips elicits coos and clucks as she’s a pretty little thing, but folk recoiled as if they’d seen Beelzebub by the news stand.
I did the only thing I could think of. I purchased three packets of wipes and sat by the Sheaf Square fountains and wiped her down as best as I could. Then I took her to the theatre and we both had a shower.
So I do understand that there are times when only a wipe will do. I hadn’t set out to disgust Sheffield, after all.