The UK’s obsession with wet wipes is completely changing rivers around the country. A London environmental group found a 1,000-fold increase in the number of wet wipes showing up in waterways, with more than 5,000 of them covering the bed of the Thames in just 116 square meters (about 1,250 square feet). “The Thames riverbed is changing. Wet wipes are accumulating on the riverbed and affecting the shape of the riverbed,” said Kirsten Downer of Thames 21, a non-profit working to clean up the rivers in England. “It looks natural, but when you get close you can see that these clumps are composed of wet wipes mixed with twigs and mud.”

The river Thames running through the center of London at sunet

The wet wipe industry has expanded beyond baby wipes – now there’s ‘moist towelettes’ for everything, including pet wipes and anti-malarial wipes. The market is expected to grow into a $4 billion industry by 2021, and as it grows, there will be an increase in wipes polluting waterways around the world. Even though many companies advertise their products as flushable, wet wipes are usually made from cotton and plastic weaved together, which means they definitely aren’t biodegradable. People “don’t realize that you are not supposed to flush wet wipes down the toilet,” Downer said to The Guardian.

Related: “Family cloths” reusable toilet wipes: gross or great?

A study in the UK showed that wet wipes are particularly insidious when it comes to clogging up sewers. According to the research, wet wipes comprised 93 percent of the material in blockages. “We want people to realize that this is not just happening on the Thames, but on rivers and canals all around the country,” Downer said. “All the time we were working, people kept coming to ask what we were doing. People are far more upset and concerned about the plastics problem than they ever have been.”

Via The Guardian

Images via Deposit Photos and Luca Micheli