They have been a boon for generations of parents – but now Tauranga wants to follow Britain's lead and restrict wet wipes.
More than two tonnes of wipes are removed from Tauranga's waste water system every week and the city council has called on the Government to stop wet wipe manufacturers claiming the products are 'flushable', so people will not dispose of them down the toilet
Wet wipes are designed to be resistant to water – so don't break down in the way normal toilet tissue does. They also have a troubling ability to collect grease, other rubbish, and other objects in the sewage system, often massing into a giant ball called a "fatberg" which blocks sewage systems.
The UK government announced in May that it would eliminate plastic waste in the coming decade, including single-use products like wet wipes to stop them blocking sewers and harming marine life and river beds.
For years, massive amounts of wet wipes had been washing up on British beaches after sewage overflows, as reported by the Independent in 2015, and British environmentalists say the tougher fibres – often containing plastics – resist breaking down for many years, polluting oceans, beaches and rivers.
Wet wipes are said to be behind 93 per cent of sewer blockages in the UK, according to Water UK, the body representing sewage companies across the country. Last year, a giant fatberg – weighing 130 tonnes – was found blocking the sewage system in London's historic Whitechapel district.
Just last month, another huge fatberg was discovered in Charleston, South Carolina, with its core a giant mass of wet wipes which had collected other detritus like tampons, string, hair and make-up pads adding to the baby wipes, oil, fat and grease.
Tauranga's mayor, Greg Brownless, told Newshub last month that wet wipes were a "serious issue" with Mt Maunganui experiencing several sewage overflows into the harbour. On at least one occasion, he said, pumps were found to be clogged with wet wipes.
He wants the government to amend the country's advertising standards so that wet wipes manufacturers cannot advertise their products as being 'flushable': "I think most people, once they know, they're not going to [flush wet wipes down the toilet], because it can not only block our sewage system, but it could block up on your own property, and if it does that, you're responsible for fixing it," he said.
New Zealand's water systems weren't "too bad", he added, and until the wet wipes came along, the country wasn't "having too many overflows at all".
New Zealand water utility company Watercare said last year that build-ups of fat, grease and oil which make up 'fatbergs' are "a constant battle" to keep under control in New Zealand's sewage systems. The comment came after a sinkhole opened up in Dannevirke, in response to a sewer pipe failure caused by a mass of fat on which rats were feeding.
Earlier this year, Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, floated a potential ban on wet wipes, saying she would be keeping "a close watch" on what's happening in the UK.
Tauranga's environment committee chairman, Steve Morris, in an article on the Tauranga City Council website, said putting wipes down the toilet could block pipes, leading to wastewater overflows into our waterways, beaches harbour, or into people's houses.
"In fact, one of the main materials used to make these wipes is plastic. Wet wipes are regularly marketed as being 'flushable', but the truth is that under normal wastewater conditions these wipes do not break down," he said, adding that the only things to be flushed down a toilet should be human effluent and toilet paper.