Are wet wipes biodegradable

Sewage experiment This is why wet wipes clog the sewer system

Damp toilet paper: increasingly popular with consumers, and now an almost daily problem for employees of municipal waterworks. Pulled out of the pack, the perfumed towels smell of fresh flowers. They feel gentler on the skin than dry paper. However, if you throw them in the toilet, they clump together on the way to the sewage treatment plant. In the sewage pumps, they can form thick braids that block the machines. They threaten to bring wastewater disposal to a standstill at any time.

The problem with damp toilet paper has been known for a long time. The packaging says that the paper can simply be washed down, it disintegrates in the sewer system. But this claim is simply wrong, as a simple experiment shows.

Experiment with damp toilet paper

MDR-Wissen reporter Stefan Marx is visiting the laboratory of the Leipzig waterworks. Heiko Schulze has set up three water glasses there, in which small stirrers ensure constant movement, just as the flowing wastewater is constantly moving. Schulze throws ordinary, three-ply, dry toilet paper into one of the three glasses. The second glass is equipped with an allegedly biodegradable wet wipe, the third is a cheaper toilet wet wipe.

Now all three towels are stirred in their glasses for half an hour. The time corresponds to the length of time it takes a cloth washed down in the toilet to reach the first waste water pump. In the end, it turns out that only tiny scraps remain of the dry toilet towel. It broke up as planned. The biodegradable cloth, on the other hand, has started to decompose but has not yet dissolved. And the conventional wet wipe is still completely intact.

a contradiction in itself

The experiment shows clearly: Wet wipes do not dissolve in the sewer system as the manufacturers promise. The reason for this is obvious: so that a wet wipe does not fall apart in the hand that it is currently using, its fibers must be particularly stable. Some manufacturers use polymers, i.e. long-chain plastics, for this. But they also mean that the cloths do not disintegrate in the wastewater.

In Leipzig, such cloths led to around 300 technical incidents in the sewage system in 2018. Employees at Leipziger Wasserwerke also estimate that the amount of waste in the sewer system caused by wet wipes has doubled over the past five years.

There are no uniform declarations

At the moment, only consumers can remedy the situation themselves: If they don't want to do without damp cloths, then they shouldn't throw them in the toilet, but in the trash. Because despite discussions between wastewater disposal companies and wet wipe manufacturers, there are still no clear declarations on the packaging or binding standards for testing procedures for such wipes - ideally Europe-wide.