City to Sea’s top tips for preventing flushed plastic pollution at home

Friday 23rd October, 2020

Here at City to Sea we’re passionate about the glamourous subject of preventing plastic pollution from your toilet. As a non-profit founded in 2016 we’ve been running award-winning campaigns on cotton buds, wet wipes and period products, all in the name of protecting our precious waters and wildlife!

So how does plastic pollution make its way from bog to beach?

Many of our sewers were built in Victorian times, back when plastic didn’t even exist! They were built to deal with poo, wee and other bodily fluids. To this day, our poor sewers can’t handle all of the other objects carelessly thrown into them.

When our sewers become overloaded (with anything other than poo, toilet paper or pee), they can block and overflow, causing their contents to empty out into our bathrooms, the street, and even our rivers and seas.

Many people don’t realise that items like cotton buds, wet wipes, contact lenses, tooth floss and period products contain a lot of plastic - so in addition to causing sewage overflow, when these items are flushed they’re creating devastating plastic pollution in our precious waterways. This plastic pollution poses serious health threats to wildlife and humans!

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How serious is the problem?

  • 5.9% of all the plastic found on our beaches is coming directly from our toilets​​​​​[1]. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s one form of plastic pollution that is incredibly simple to be rid of.
  • A study by Water UK found ‘fatbergs’ (the nickname given to sewer blockages) to be made from 93% wet wipes – only 0.5% is actually made of fats and oils. Maybe they should be renamed ‘wet-wipe bergs’![2]
  • The number of wet wipes found on UK beaches has increased by more than 700% in the last decade[3].
  • Menstrual products are the fifth most common item found on Europe’s beaches, more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery or straws[4]
  • Before 2018, plastic-stemmed cotton buds were consistently in the Top 10 list of finds on UK beaches over the last 25 years[5]. In 2019 they dropped to number 11!


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When we visit our local nature spot, all we want to come across is sticks, stones and maybe some seaweed. Are you with us?

Our Top Tips for reducing flushed plastic pollution:

  • Make it easy to stop flushing the health of the oceans down the pan! Put a bin in your bathroom so binning is just as easy as flushing. If you have space, why not have a little bin for recycling as well?
  • Don’t believe the wipe. Wet wipe labelling can be confusing and it’s not always clear how you should dispose of them. It’s always best to avoid single-use plastic (like most wet wipes) wherever possible and just use good old-fashioned loo roll. Or reusable wipes like these ones from Cheeky Wipes.

But if you really need to use a disposable wipe, please put it in the bin. 

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  • Try Plastic Free Periods. A big-brand pack of 14 menstrual pads contains the same amount of plastic as 5 carrier bags[6], and tampons contain plastic in the outer weave and string too.

Give plastic-free period products a go to protect the health of the planet, your body, and save money whilst you’re at it! Plastic-free options include: menstrual cups, period pants, reusable pads, organic tampons and pads, reusable tampon applicators.

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If you have school-aged kids why not direct their PSHE teachers/school nurses to our free training program Rethink Periods which we’re excited to now be running in partnership with Southern Water.

  • Switch the stick! Cotton buds are so small that they can squeeze through sewage filters and make their way out into our rivers and seas, causing havoc to wildlife. In 2016 we ran a campaign calling on 9 major retailers to switch their cotton bud sticks from plastic to paper, and we won! If you really need to use cotton buds, opt for paper ones sold at Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Boots, LIDL, ALDI and Wilko. Even paper cotton buds should be disposed of in the bin!
  •  Encourage others to join you in preventing flushed plastic pollution! Print this bathroom poster and put it up in your bathroom at home, in the office, in your kid's school toilets…
  • Get talking toilets! Share this article and our Toilet Training for Adults video with your friends and family.

Together, we can prevent flushed plastic pollution, and Unblocktober is the perfect time to get started!

City to Sea is an award-winning not-for-profit, campaigning to stop plastic pollution at source. They’re tackling the single-use plastic items found most commonly on our beaches and in our oceans by providing practical, solutions-focused initiatives and advocating reduce and reuse over single-use.