Re-useable wipes for kids can save the planet

When it comes to eco-friendly choices in the home, there’s a lot to be said for making small changes. When we speak to founders of brands trying to make products for the home more sustainable, advice like this is often what they say:

“I think there is power in the simple daily actions we take.”
Eliza Flanagan, founder of KANKAN
That’s because we have a lot of power over what we use and what we waste. A lot more than we might think. Small incremental steps to change the amount we throw away, make a big difference over time. Yet so often, we find it hard to see how one used plastic tray here, or one empty shower gel bottle there, adds up. They just seem so small and inoffensive.

We can feel pretty good about ourselves recycling some things. Finding a new home for a sofa we’re getting rid of for example feels like we’ve done well, and that’s not wrong. We absolutely should find ways to reduce and recycle things, especially large items. But sometimes the fact that it’s large, and so clearly feels ‘wasteful’ to put in a skip, makes it an easier decision to make. What slips through are often the daily decisions to throw small things away because they don’t feel very wasteful. 

Take wet wipes in this case – small and seemingly innocuous. One wet wipe thrown away in a day doesn’t feel like a lot, but it adds up. In reality it’s probably a few wet wipes each day that we’re binning. When you have several children you’re cleaning up or a face of makeup to remove each day, the amount of wet wipe waste is probably a few more beyond that. But it still feels quite small and harmless. 

But before you know it, you’re a small part of a much bigger problem. 11 billion wipes are used in the UK each year, of which about 90% contain plastic. That equates to about 200 wipes per person on average, though for some people they’ll be binning a lot more than 200 a year. If you’re wiping faces after mealtimes, cleaning up spills, wiping messy hands or changing several nappies a day, you really get through a lot more wet wipes. For some with young children, you might be using 2000-3000 wipes in a year!

mushi microfibre hands and face post-mealtime clean up cloths for kids

The problem with wet wipes is that they’re incredibly handy and super useful on the go. Sales of wipes - for cleaning, for skincare, for wiping kids cheeks - have been steadily increasing. We’re addicted to how easy it is to use one and pop and it in the bin without any fuss. For some people it even means popping them in the loo - apparently 9.3 million are flushed down the toilet each day, contributing to 93% of all blocked sewer cases. When it’s that easy to use and dispose of something, it can be a hard habit to break. That’s especially true with kids when we’d do anything to reduce even a little of the muck and chaos. 

But aside from contributing to blocked sewers or landfill, they also contribute to pollution. With 90% still made from plastic, that’s a lot of emissions produced just to clean a kid’s mucky face. It’s why there has been a positive move toward removing plastic from wipes. A lot are now made from other bio-degradable materials and non-plastic products. Bamboo wipes for example come from bamboo plants that grow rapidly all year round so in theory are a far more sustainable source for our wipes addiction.

But the reality is, using anything once and then throwing it away is never going to be a good sustainable solution no matter what it’s made from. Reduce and re-use come before recycling in the green hierarchy for good reason. If we’re disposing of over 9 billion wipes in the UK each year, it’s not going to be good for the planet’s resources. For example, bamboo is really only grown in the far-east so production of wipes upon wipes, even those made from bamboo, comes at a big emissions cost when you try to ship bamboo overseas.

Bio-degradable is also a bit of a marketing gimmick to make us feel better about what we’re doing. But the truth is, most of us don’t do food composting, and there’s a lack of understanding about what bin to put bio-degradable wipes in. More often than not they end up in your general waste bin and that typically means they won’t be bio-degrading at all. They’ll be incinerated along with most of your general household waste. Not the environmental solution to wipes we might have wanted them to be.

With three children, disposable nappies and wipes is something we always felt a bit embarrassed about. On the one hand we’re parents who know how hard day-to-day life can be and appreciate the huge convenience. But we also knew this was a small change where could be doing better. Small steps add up to make a big difference.

We were using wet wipes repeatedly to clean up our kids’ hands and faces after meal-times and we really didn’t need to be. We needed a better solution, that didn’t cost us on convenience, but didn’t leave landfill full of wipes or continue the cycle of producing more plastic to put in the bin.

We designed Mushi cloths to do just this. A simple solution that cleans muck, dirt and meal time mess off our kid’s faces and hands better than a wet wipe! It absorbs spills, cleans up tables and is super soft on kid’s skin. It’s simple microfibre strands mean all you need to do is wet the cloths a little with some regular H2O from your tap and it will remove dirt from kid’s and trap it in the cloth. Rather than smearing muck around their face along with some unknown chemical formulation in the wipe, you get a fast effective clean up with just water!

And this is where we get to the best bit – the cloths are re-useable again and again and again! Pop them in the washing machine or give them a scrub in the sink with dish soap and they’ll be as good to go again when you need them. No more wipes in landfill and incinerators and an end to the cycle of single use plastics.

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