Governments across the UK are currently reviewing consultation responses on whether to ban the making and selling of wet wipes which are made of plastic as well as other materials. These wipes are harmful to the environment as, once flushed, they both escape into the environment and cause the majority of blockages in our sewers, causing sewage to overflow, and pollute our communities and our precious Welsh rivers and seas.

While many support the suggested ban of wipes which are made of plastics, perhaps it doesn't go far enough and maybe it's time to ditch all wet wipes which block our sewers — full stop. This is something which has been discussed at length with Welsh Water's Independent Environmental Advisory Panel (IEAP), who unanimously agree we must ban such wipes.

The panel was established to challenge and support our company, to maximise the value of our investment programme for customers and the environment, and to help us secure a safe and sustainable future for our environment; one that can support the economy and quality of life for generations to come.

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Currently, the sewerage system in Wales is under unprecedented pressure. Sewers are impacted by the flushing of plastic items that simply should never be flushed, including wipes. Welsh Water removes around 420 tonnes per month of plastics away from its waste water treatment works. The costs to Welsh Water - and subsequently our customers - of having to jet wash these plastics through our sewers comes to millions of pounds a year - money which, frankly, could and should be invested in improving our environment and dealing with climate change. None of us want to see wipes and other items in our rivers and seas so to stop these things coming out of sewers, we need to stop putting them in.

40% of Welsh Water's waste water pollution incidents are caused by sewer blockages, most of which are either directly caused by or exacerbated by wet wipes; incidents that everyone wants to see eradicated. Wipe-related blockages combined with increases in rainfall, new housing developments, new patios and artificial grass all prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the ground, meaning that more surface water is running into the sewers, putting them under considerable strain. When sewers are at capacity, storm overflows allow them to release (all be it much-diluted) effluent through release points to avoid flooding in our homes and communities.

Public interest in the state of our rivers and seas has intensified and rightly so. As a company, we have placed tackling issues related to water quality as a top priority for years, with a £1.5bn spend to date. We have also earmarked £1.9bn subject to regulatory approval to improve the environment between 2025-2030, a huge increase on the current investment period. But Welsh Water's contribution to the issues is just one piece of the puzzle.

It's too simplistic to look at the issues we're facing and think that our company alone can fix this challenge sustainably. We need to progressively stop single use plastics from entering our sewers whilst working with customers who can help 'Stop the Block', a campaign run by Welsh Water to encourage behaviour change - and only flush the 3Ps down the loo: poo, pee and paper. We must move to a more sustainable sewerage service, one where instead of spending the millions we spend on flushing our sewers, we invest that on our customers' priorities - like improving river water quality further or biodiversity enhancements.

I have seen first-hand the impact of wet wipe blockages during my 12 years with at the company. We live in a world driven by market forces, which are shaped in the main by the short-term needs of society. We are very good at inventing things like wet wipes which make life more convenient for us all, without understanding the environmental consequences of their use and disposal. Producing products for single use and disposal is resource inefficient, and ultimately - unsustainable.

Regulatory intervention appears to be the only effective way to control these market forces and where they drive our society.

We have also invested in many innovative solutions to try and tackle the immediate issues caused by wet wipe blockages. We are currently in the final stages of a trial for a new screening device (made locally in Swansea) which efficiently and effectively self-cleans debris including wipes so they cannot escape the storm overflows.

But what about so called 'flushable wipes'? As it currently stands, the 'do not flush' labelling of such products is inadequate and does not provide clear guidance to consumers that such products should be disposed of in the bin, and not flushed down the toilet. I say that as our blockage 'autopsies' confirm so-called flushable wipes still block sewers. If product labelling could be improved and made both bold (on the front of packaging), clear, and mandatory, we would hope that no extension of the ban to non-plastic wipes would be needed. However, as it currently stands, such single-use products are flushed and block sewers causing both pollution and flooding of properties. For that reason, we would argue the case for extending such a ban.

The evidence is clear. We must move towards a more sustainable future, by reducing society's impact on our rivers and seas whilst adapting to climate change. We all have a role to play to help safeguard our environment, and a wet wipe ban would provide immediate results for the benefit of the environment, as well as for the wellbeing of future generations.

Professor Tony Harrington is director of environment at Welsh Water.