Boots has pledged to stop selling all wet wipes that contain plastic fibres by the end of the year.
The health and beauty retail giant is one of the biggest sellers of wet wipes in the UK, with more than 140 different lines stocked across skincare, baby, tissue and health care.
After selling more than 800 million wipes in the last year, its commitment to remove plastic-based wipes from its shelves and replace them with plant-based biodegradable alternatives comes as a positive step for the environment and those wanting to shop more sustainably.
The move follows Boots setting the example and opting to reformulate its own-brand wipe ranges to make them plastic-free.
A large proportion of the 11 billion wet wipes used in the UK every year still contain some form of plastic, the Marine Conservation Society claims. Evidence suggests they are the cause of more than nine in 10 blockages in sewers across the nation, and can have damaging effects on sea creatures and marine life.
Steve Ager, chief customer and commercial officer at Boots UK, says: "Our customers are more aware than ever before of their impact on the environment, and they are actively looking to brands and retailers to help them lead more sustainable lives.
"We removed plastics from our own brand and No7 wet wipe ranges in 2021, and now we are calling on other brands and retailers across the UK to follow suit in eliminating all plastic-based wet wipes.
"We all have responsibility to protect our planet. By joining forces to inspire more positive action, we can collectively make a big difference."
So what should we replace plastic-free wet wipes with? Eco-friendly alternatives include organic cotton pad cloths and face towels that you can use to remove make-up, as well as biodegradable bamboo baby wipes.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow praised the move: "This is a really encouraging commitment from Boots to prevent the damaging plastics in wet wipes from entering our environment.
"We have already conducted a call for evidence on wet wipes, including the potential for banning those containing plastic."
Pleased we're launching a call for evidence on whether wipes containing plastic should be banned & considering strict new standards for wet wipes to prevent dangerous pollution being flushed down our toilets & ending up in rivers & littering beaches. @DefraGovUK @Jochurchill_MP pic.twitter.com/m9b94EJndM
— Rebecca Pow (@pow_rebecca) November 15, 2021
"In the meantime, our message is clear – you should bin and not flush wet wipes," Pow added.
It's important to be aware that even when wet wipes are advertised as flushable, biodegradable or compostable, they won't degrade quickly enough to avoid causing problems down our drains and in our waterways, Friends of the Earth points out.
"It's a fantastic step in the right direction for retailers, like Boots, to remove plastic from their own brand wet wipes and ask that all brands they stock do the same," says Marine Conservation Society chief executive Sandy Luk.
"Our volunteers found nearly 6,000 wet wipes during the Great British Beach Clean in September 2021, which is an average of 12 and a half wet wipes for every 100 metres of beach surveyed.
"The fact we're still finding so many wet wipes on beaches shows that we need to remove plastic from wet wipes and move toward reusable options wherever possible, and it's great that Boots are making commitments to this."
Non-degradable wet wipes could take 100 years or more to break down.
Additional reporting PA.