Tesco is to become the first of the main UK supermarkets to stop selling baby wipes containing plastic, which cause environmental damage from blocking sewers and waterways after being flushed by consumers.
It is the country’s biggest seller of baby wipes - with customers purchasing 75 million packs of baby wipes every year, adding up to 4.8 billion individual wipes.
The supermarket said it will stop the sale of branded baby wipes containing plastic from 14 March.
What are the impacts of baby wipes containing plastic?
It is estimated that as many as 11 billion wet wipes are used in the UK each year.
The majority contain some form of plastic and many are flushed down the toilets, causing increasing environmental problems.
In November 2021, MPs heard how wet wipes are forming islands, causing rivers to change shape as the products pile up on their banks.
They also heard how marine animals are dying after ingesting microplastics.
Baby wipes containing plastic also play an important role in fatbergs that form in sewers, leading to blockages that require complex work to remove.
Tesco has said any wipes it sold that could not be flushed down the toilet were clearly labelled “do not flush”.
What else has Tesco done to help the environment?
Tesco said it had been working on some of its own-label and branded wipes to remove plastic, including cleaning wipes and moist toilet tissue.
It confirmed its only kind of wipe that still contained plastic – designed to be used for pets – would also be plastic-free by the end of the year.
In 2020 the supermarket began removing plastic from its own-brand wet wipes when it switched to biodegradable viscose - making it break down more quickly.
Tesco said it was trying to tackle the impact of plastic waste as part of its “4Rs” packaging strategy, which involves removing plastic waste where possible, or reducing it.
It also looks at ways to reuse and recycle more.
The chain said it had opened soft plastic collection points in more than 900 stores, and had launched a reusable packaging trial with shopping service Loop, which delivers food, drink and household products to consumers in refillable containers.
What other retailers are trying to reduce their plastic use?
Tesco is not the first retailer to stop selling wipes containing plastic due to environmental reasons.
Health food chain Holland and Barrett said it was the first high-street retailer to ban the sale of all wet-wipe products from its 800 UK and Ireland stores in September 2019.
The chain replaced the entire range with reusable alternatives.
The Body Shop beauty chain has also phased out all face wipes from its shops.
Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s group quality director, said: “We have worked hard to remove plastic from our wipes as we know how long they take to break down.”
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