Can Wet Wipes Be Recycled?

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Baby wipes, moist towelettes, wet naps — whatever you call them, they all serve essentially the same purpose. Wet wipes are single-use, moist, sanitary paper products used for personal hygiene or household cleaning. These handy inventions are often used to clean up during diaper changes, to sanitize surfaces in the home or workplace, or even to use in place of toilet paper for extra cleanliness.

Though they can be convenient for you, wet wipes are quite problematic for the planet, no matter how they end up there.

Thrown Away

The synthetic fibers that make up wet wipes prevent them from being compostable or recyclable. So, after a single use, they head to the landfill. There, they are out of sight for most, but certainly should not be out of mind. Due to those pesky synthetic fibers, wet wipes do not break down and represent a hefty proportion of non-biodegradable waste in landfills.


Regrettably, our trash doesn’t always make it to the garbage can. On-the-go wet wipe users often end up tossing their used wipes into the environment. A beach clean-up done by the Marine Conservation Society discovered a 50 percent increase in wet wipes littering U.K. beaches between 2013 and 2014. Wet wipes that find their way into the oceans can be fatal for marine animals, commonly settling in their stomachs and leading to starvation. It is clear that wet wipes are quickly becoming a leading environmental pollutant.


Some wet wipes are advertised as “flushable,” making them a convenient toilet paper replacement for those who wish to feel exceedingly squeaky clean. However, the idea that wet wipes can be flushed down the toilet has been contested by wastewater officials everywhere. It turns out, wet wipes do not disintegrate in the same way toilet paper does and can form congealed masses that block drains and clog sewer systems, costing city governments millions of dollars and potentially contaminating our oceans and beaches.

Plus! Not So Healthy

In addition to negatively impacting the environment, wet wipes can be detrimental to human health. Wet wipes contain a mixture of chemicals to enhance their cleaning abilities. These chemicals can be toxic and harmful to those who come in contact with them. Many wet wipes contain certain fragrances, preservatives and cleaning agents that irritate the skin, causing painful rashes and inflammations. Because wet wipes are often used in direct contact with skin, this is a nasty combination.

This era’s increasing obsession with convenience seems to be coming with a significant environmental cost, which is exemplified by these negative impacts posed by wet wipes. It’s obvious that we need to move away from convenient disposables and consider reuse. There are many excellent alternatives to wet wipes, including good old-fashioned washcloths. I also suggest investing in paperless towels or even making your own. Learn more about DIY “unpaper” towels or find out where to buy similar eco-friendly products here.

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Lauren Murphy