Are flushable wipes biodegradable? (Properties of flushable wipes)

This article shall answer the question, “are flushable wipes biodegradable?”.

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • Materials used to make wipes.
  • Properties and uses of wipes.
  • Biodegradation process.
  • Eco-friendliness of flushable wipes.

Are flushable wipes biodegradable?

Yes, some flushable wipes are biodegradable because they are made from organic materials derived from plants.

Other flushable wipes are non-biodegradable because they are made from synthetic plastics which are not susceptible to microbial degradation.

There is a wide range of materials used to make wipes, it depends on the manufacturers and the user’s preference.

But to understand the biodegradability of these different materials, we need to first look at the process of biodegradation.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which naturally occurring organic materials are broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small particles which are not harmful to the environment.

Biodegradation is carried out by different agents such as UV radiation, light, wind, and water but the most effective agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and assimilation.

The biodeterioration process loosens up the structure of the organic substance. For instance, the cell wall of plants is weakened by light, wind, water, and UV radiation.

Bio-fragmentation involves the breakdown of organic matter into smaller, nontoxic particles by bacteria and fungi, releasing water and carbon dioxide in the process.

Assimilation is the last stage of biodegradation and it involves the microorganisms taking up the products of bio-fragmentation into their biological machinery to be used to make energy.

Biodegradation can either involve the microorganisms using oxygen, aerobic biodegradation or it can involve the microorganisms which do not use oxygen, anaerobic biodegradation.

Aerobic biodegradation breaks down organic matter into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide and water.

Anaerobic biodegradation breaks down organic matter into small biomass and in the process carbon dioxide and methane gases are produced.

Aerobic biodegradation occurs at a faster rate than anaerobic biodegradation whereas anaerobic respiration is more efficient and produces more gases and other products.

Advantages of biodegradation.

Biodegradation has several advantages which include the following:

  • It cleans the environment of the wastes.
  • Applicable to a wide range of products.
  • It can be triggered through composting
  • It is cost-effective.
  • Results to soil enrichment with nutrients.
  • Used to produce bioenergy.
  • Biodegradation through fermentation has led to the manufacturing of drugs.
  • It leads to the production of organic acids and alcohol.

Disadvantages of biodegradation.

Biodegradation has several disadvantages which include:

  • It leads to wear and tear of organic-based materials such as clothes.
  • It takes a very long time to degrade waste.
  • When used to produce bioenergy, it requires a lot of biomass.
  • It is easily affected by contaminants such as oil and antibiotics.
  • It is only limited to organic matter

What are the properties of flushable wipes?

The following are the properties of flushable wipes.

  • They are resistant to tears when exposed to stress and sharp edges.
  • They have a lint property; they leave fibers on surfaces when used to wipe. Good wipes should be lint-free or have low lint.
  • They are resistant to abrasion. They don’t tear when rubbed against rough abrasive surfaces.
  • They have high absorbency and release capacity. Synthetic wipes have a good release capacity while natural fibers have a good absorption rate. 
  • They are lightweight.
  • Embossed wipes are good for abrasive structures while smooth-surfaced wipes are good for delicate surfaces.

What are the applications of flushable wet wipes?

The following are the uses of flushable wet wipes.

  • They are used as baby wipes.
  • They are used in toilets as standard toilet tissue.
  • They are used as part of personal hygiene. They are part of hotel cutlery.
  • They are used as cleansing pads for sterilization.
  • They are used as industrial wipes.
  • They are used to treat minor injuries by soaking them in alcohol for sterilization.
  • They are used in healthcare centers to wipe infected areas.

What are the materials used to make flushable wipes?

Flushable wipes are made from different materials which include:

  • Cotton.
  • Viscose/Rayon.
  • Polyester.
  • Wood pulp.

Cotton.

This is a soft fluffy fiber that grows in a boll around the seeds of cotton plants.

It is mainly made of cellulose but can have small amounts of fats, pectins, wax, and water 

There are 4 distinct types of cotton depending on the cotton plant species. They include:

  • Gossypium hirsutum; accounts for almost 90% of the world’s production.
  • Gossypium barbadense is also called extra-long-staple cotton. It accounts for almost 8% of the world’s production.
  • Gossypium arboreum; also called tree cotton. It accounts for less than 2% of the world’s production.
  • Gossypium herbaceum; also called levant cotton. It accounts for less than 2% of the world’s production.

Properties of cotton.

The following are the properties of cotton.

  • It has a high luster.
  • It has high tensile strength.
  • It has low resilience to chemicals.
  • It decomposes under high temperatures.
  • It is non-irritating to the user.
  • It is hypoallergenic.

Uses of cotton.

Cotton fabric has the following uses.

  • Making bath towels and robes.
  • Making denim for blue jeans.
  • Making socks and underwear.
  • Making bed sheets.
  • Making embroidery thread for crochet and knitting.
  • Making fishing nets.
  • Making coffee filters.
  • Making tents.
  • Making cotton papers

Viscose/Rayon.

This is a semi-synthetic fiber made from natural cellulose from wood and animal products and other chemical substances.

Properties of rayon.

These are the properties of rayon textile.

  • It is more slippery than natural fibers.
  • It has the same texture as silk, wool, and cotton depending on the chemicals used to process it.
  • It is easily dyed into different colors.
  • It is smooth, soft, and has high adsorbent properties.
  • They have low durability as compared to other fibers.

Uses of rayon.

Rayon textile is used in the following ways.

  • Used to make bedsheets.
  • Used to make clothes such as sarees, blouses, dresses, and socks.
  • Used to make curtains.
  • Used to make blankets.
  • It is used to make carpets.
  • It is used to make bandages and surgical dressings.

Polyester.

This is a polymer that contains a repeat of ester groups.

It is also called polyethylene terephthalate.

Properties of polyester plastic.

The following are the properties of polyester.

  • It is inert.
  • It is a strong and hard material.
  • It is durable.
  • It is resistant to microbial attack.
  • It is lightweight, and hence easy to carry.
  • It is fully recyclable.

Uses of polyester.

The following are the properties of polyester plastic.

  • It is used in making fabrics for knitting shirts, pants, jackets, bed sheets, blankets, upholstery, and hats.
  • It is used in the reinforcement of car tires.
  • Making conveyor belts.
  • Making safety belts.
  • Used as cushioning material in pillows.
  • Used in making liquid crystal displays

Wood pulp.

Wood pulp is a fabric made by separating cellulose fibers from wood, waste paper, or rags.

It is mostly acquired from coniferous trees because of their longer cellulose fibers.

The trees from which pulp is harvested also contain hemicellulose and lignin apart from cellulose.

Applications of wood pulp.

The wood pulp is used in the following ways.

  • In the production of paper.
  • In the production of boards.
  • Making regenerated cellulose that is used in textile and cellophane production.
  • Fluff pulp is used to make diapers, feminine hygiene ( wet wipes), and nonwovens.

Are flushable wipes eco-friendly?

Wet wipes have raised concerns over their eco-friendliness. According to a study, wet wipes should not be flushed but instead should be dumped in a bin.

It has been discovered that even those wet wipes labeled “flushable” are not biodegradable or take a longer time to biodegrade, this creates a fatberg in sewer lines which blocks the sewer lines causing pollution.

A fatberg is a rock-like mass of waste products mostly flushable wet wipes that form in a sewer system.

Conclusion.

This article has answered the question of the biodegradability of flushable wet wipes.

It has also covered other areas like:

  • The material used to make flushable wipes.
  • Properties and uses of flushable wipes.
  • Eco-friendliness of flushable wet wipes.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): are flushable wet wipes biodegradable?

Are there any biodegradable wipes?

Yes, wipes made from 100% organic materials obtained from plant products are biodegradable.

How long does it take flushable wipes to biodegrade?

Wipes labeled as flushable wipes are not biodegradable because they contain some plastic materials in their ingredients. 

These wet wipes form a fatberg in the sewer system.

How do you dispose of flushable wipes?

Flushable wipes are best disposed of in the trash bin where they will decompose.

Flushing them may lead to blockage of the sewer system because their biodegradation may take a long time.

Citations.

Caroline Westbrook. (2 November 2021). Can you flush wet wipes and is there an eco-friendly way to dispose of them?

Retrieved from:

Lauren Barth. (April 16, 2021). Are biodegradable wipes better? What you need to know. An article on new folks.

Retrieved from:

https://www.newfolks.com/stages/biodegradable-wipes-info/?amp=#amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&aoh=16546049773297&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com

Kong X, Qi H, Curtis JM (August 2014). “Synthesis and characterization of high-molecular-weight aliphatic polyesters from monomers derived from renewable resources”. Journal of Applied Polymer Science. 131 (15): 40579–40586. doi:10.1002/app.40579.

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