Ban on plastic wet wipes possible in new Government water plan

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The Government has set out a new plan to tackle water pollution which could see wet wipes banned.

In its Plan for Water, the Government also wants to see more investment from water companies, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement for those who pollute.

It also includes a consultation on a ban of plastic in wet wipes and restrictions on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam, textiles, cleaning products, paints and varnishes.

But the plan has been criticised by Labour for rehashing old policies which, it says, will not end the problem of water companies dumping sewage into rivers.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said on Saturday that water companies could face unlimited penalties for dumping sewage.

These would be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund which the Government said would support local groups and community-led schemes to clean up waterways.

Regulator Ofwat is considering approving 31 schemes worth £1.6 billion and is accepting comments from the public until April 24.

Ms Coffey said: “Our rare chalk streams and world-famous coastlines, lakes and rivers are hugely important to local communities and to nature.

“I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them.

“That includes higher penalties taken from water company profits which will be channelled back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed.

“This is not straightforward, but I take this issue extremely seriously and things need to change. That’s why we have developed this plan and we are committed to delivering the progress that people want to see.”

Ms Coffey is set to lay out her department’s plans in a speech on Tuesday at the London Wetland Centre.

Other proposals include giving farmers £34 million to improve pollution from slurry as well as £10 million to fund more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment.

The Government also wants to encourage water companies to install more smart meters in households to reduce water demand and help rare chalk stream habitats with a £1 million fund.

Responding to plans to speed up water infrastructure investment, Ali Morse, water policy manager for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “This investment is imperative, and we urge Government to ensure that projects begin as soon as possible.

“Water companies develop long-term plans for water supply and wastewater, which include environmental improvements, but these are set to happen over decades; our waters and wildlife cannot wait.

“We need to take every opportunity to bring forward this essential investment if we are to stand any chance of halting nature’s decline by 2030, as the law requires and as society demands.”

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said: “This announcement is nothing more than a shuffling of the deck chairs and a reheating of old, failed measures that simply give the green light for sewage dumping to continue for decades to come.

“This is the third sham of a Tory water plan since the summer. There’s nothing in it that tells us how, if or when they will end the Tory sewage scandal.”

Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “After years of burying their heads, ministers have finally surfaced to tackle the scourge of sewage and pollution in our waterways and along our coasts.

“It’s clear the Conservatives can also smell a local election in the air and are only acting in response to public pressure.

“The actions are too little too late, and still leave the water industry in private hands able to profit from failure.

“The Green Party wants to see system change, with our water supply brought back into public ownership at the earliest practicable opportunity.”

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