Andrex has been taking action to limit the environmental impact their wipes have, through recycled packaging and natural plant fibers to make the wipes biodegradable. The product itself is affordable, and to a certain extent, environmentally conscious. However, consumers must consider the impact the wipes are having on a wider scale, whether that be on local sewage systems, or larger-scale waterways where the product has the possibility to infiltrate into ocean systems.
The washlets are made from; Aqua, Phenoxyethanol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Benzoate, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Dehydroacetic Acid, Parfum, Tocopheryl Acetate, and Citric Acid. This product is made from a combination of synthetic and organic ingredients. The most problematic ingredient is phenoxyethanol, as it’s considered to be harmful and toxic, both for our own health and the environment.
Andrex’s wipes are marketed as “flushable, biodegradable, and 100% plastic-free”, with strong claims emphasizing that they do not block sewer systems as they disintegrate down the drain line. However, making the wet wipe more ‘dispersible’ does not mean that they are eco-friendly. It suggests that the synthetic materials are broken apart more easily into microplastics which then inevitably find themselves in rivers and oceans. Larger particles can be choking hazards for marine life and enter food chains, or even visibly litter the physical environment. The wipes are also made from “100% natural fibers”, which are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. The brand has been awarded the highest rating of 3 trees on the WWF UK Timber Scorecard. WWF’s scorecard is an attempt to increase transparency, inform consumers and support commitment to sustainably sourced timber products. The wipes’ packaging is made from 30% recycled plastic and is 100% recyclable. Their next target is to increase the use of recycled plastic packaging for their products by 50% by the end of 2023.
However, the environmental impact of flushable wet wipes is far from beneficial. Each wipe is designed to be used and thrown away, feeding into a wasteful habit. Even if they are certified as ‘Fine to Flush’, many of these wipes find their way to waterways and oceans, and in most cases, contribute to “fatbergs” that block sewage systems. Fatbergs have severe environmental impacts - a fatberg the size of a double-decker bus weighing over 40 tonnes was removed from a London sewer in 2019, and this is not a standalone case. Even though Andrex ensures their wipes are flushable (which they should stop saying!) and biodegradable, this claim is misleading. Both the ASA and Water UK have stressed that the wipes do not meet their guidelines. One of the greatest challenges with wipes is informing consumers how to dispose of them in an appropriate manner, which does not have a negative impact on the environment. Since Andrex’s wipes are advertised as biodegradable, composting would be a viable option or if this is not possible, disposing of them in a regular rubbish bin is better than flushing them. However, the most environmentally friendly option would be to avoid using these wipes entirely and consider more sustainable alternatives such as washable flannels and cloths.
The production of wipes on a mass-scale is likely to have various environmental impacts, especially as they would be using energy-intensive machinery. Andrex has attempted to make its production line more sustainable by incorporating sustainable water use into all its sites. As mentioned in their sustainability report, their operation process considers water availability, biodiversity considerations, and the regulatory landscape to create a sustainable water use target. Their facilities then implement this target across the manufacturing process. For example, by 2030, they plan to reduce their water footprint by 50% in water-stressed regions, through improvements in their supply chain.
Andrex is owned by Kimberly-Clark, an American multinational which produces paper-based products. They own many other brands such as Kleenex, Cottonelle, Huggies, and Kotex. In their sustainability report, they place a strong emphasis on making a difference across their supply chains, by incorporating the UN SDG’s throughout the whole life cycle of their products. They have aspirations for 2030 including improving the well-being of 1 billion people through their social programs and reducing their plastic footprint by 50% by incorporating renewable materials in their products.
Andrex has a mission to improve sustainability, and they are proud to be tackling environmental issues. They incorporate sustainability in their packaging, products, and processes, and are continuously looking for new ways to innovate. Andrex is partnered with ‘WaterAid’ and the ‘UK Plastics Act’ to find environmentally innovative solutions, and improve the lives of communities globally. For example, together WaterAid and Andrex have worked together to improve toilet provision in Bangladesh (Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna) through the ‘Toilets Change Lives’ initiative (launched in 2014), either by constructing new toilets or renovating existing public toilets. This initiative has increased local public health by improving access to clean water and sanitation, therefore preventing adults and children from missing school or work due to ill health. Overall, Kimberly-Clark has been widely successful with its social impact initiatives, reaching a scope of 17 million people, which include 3.9 million having access to sanitation and consequently the empowerment of 1.7 million women and girls.