Flushed But Not Forgotten: The Rising Costs and Opportunities of Disposable Wet Wipes
Keywords:Wipes, Nonwovens, Single-use plastics, Bio-based, Biomaterials, Regenerated cellulose
The increasing popularity of single-use wet wipes across a variety of applications has caused environmental and economic challenges. Due to their convenience and low cost, disposable nonwoven wipes have become a necessity in the lives of many. However, consumers rarely consider the end-of-life of these items. Despite efforts from stakeholders, including wipes manufacturers and wastewater experts, there is frequent confusion among consumers regarding appropriate disposal. Many consumers flush wipes that are not compatible with municipal sewer systems, causing considerable damage. Additionally, wipes have poor environmental outcomes, as they often contain non-renewable plastics or are unable to biodegrade under disposal conditions. Previously, the wet wipes industry was projected to grow an average of 6% between 2021 and 2025; however, the use of these disposable items is projected to be much higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper reviews the market, key challenges, and technical properties of single-use nonwoven wipes. An emphasis is placed on the unique properties and associated challenges of flushable wipes. With strong market demands, consumers are unlikely to abandon single-use wipes, and therefore innovative solutions are required to solve the main environmental and technical challenges associated with flushable and non-flushable wipes.