Students from the Mercy secondary school in Galway City have won a top award for raising awareness of environmental problems caused by flushing wet wipes down the toilet.
The students’ project, entitled ‘Wet Wipe Hype Project’ came about following a beach clean-up they carried out two years ago – they discovered a huge number of wet wipes tangled up in seaweed.
Their ‘Ocean Hero Award’ coincides with the launch of a nationwide ‘Think Before You Flush’ campaign to halt the problem of sanitary products being thrown down the toilet.
Beckey Finn Britton, Coastal Programmes Officer with An Taisce said: “The campaign through education and awareness aims to prevent items like wet wipes clogging our wastewater network and cotton bud sticks washing up on our beaches.
“Every day, people flush thousands of sanitary items such as baby wipes and cotton bud sticks down the toilet instead of simply putting them in the bin. Other items that are frequently flushed down the toilet include cigarette butts and plasters.
“In a study of over 1,000 Irish people, 3 in 10 admitted to flushing such items down the toilet. Of these, 58% admitted to flushing baby wipes down the toilet; 40% facial wipes; 26% cotton bud sticks; 24% tampons and 21% cigarette butts.
“More than half of those who flush these items down the toilet did so simply due to a lack of knowledge,” she said. The students in the Mercy carried out an awareness survey based on the flushing habits of students in the school.
They found that 51% of students regularly flushed wet wipes down the toilet and 55% did not know the results of flushing wet wipes.
These results led to the development of awareness workshops to be given to students by students.
A follow-up survey revealed 87% of students who attended the workshop agreed to stop flushing the wipes.
The students carried out a further study of the beach which was initially cleaned.
They found an average 60 wet wipes washed up per square metre, equivalent to one standard pack of wipes.
This resulted in the commencement of a social and local media campaign highlighting the issue.
The students also visited a local primary school to inform them about the issue and filmed an awareness video clip for Clean Coasts. Sean Corrigan of sponsors Irish Water said: “Irish Water is prioritising investment in improving wastewater treatment in areas around the country that have been without proper wastewater treatment for many years.
“We are fortunate to have such a magnificent coastline in Ireland and a really high quality marine environment and the investment we are making in the coming years will ensure this is protected.”