Seeing the wet wipes amongst the bladderwrack felt, for me, a little like eating the apple in the Garden of Eden. There I was, a few years ago, happily wild swimming around Scotland’s shores not really bothering too much about the waste, often not really noticing it, till one day on a Marine Conservation Society beach clean, I saw, as we collected and counted waste, some material I had never really noticed before.

Caught amongst the swirls of seaweed was a grey mass of matter that looked almost marine biological. I was surprised, and slightly sickened when someone told me these were wipes. Like most of us, I’d used the things – though never flushed them down the toilet - particularly when my children were small, and here was a tangle like something vomited up by the tide.

Since then, I have seen the stuff everywhere – and not just that grey matter on the beaches. I’ve seen wet wipes hanging from the trees that dip low towards the river near a sewage outflow in the River Almond. Out of curiosity, I've visited my local sewage treatment works and witnessed the mass of solids filtered out in the initial filter of our water, much of which is wipes. After a big rain, I was told, the first flush would be like a "river of rag".

So, the news that the UK Environment minister Therese Coffey has announced a ban on plastic wet wipes for England to come into force in the next 12 months makes me want to celebrate – but it’s hard to do so given the knowledge that this is the third time this has been proposed. 

It’s hard to applaud when you know the UK plan to eliminate plastic waste including wet wipes was first announced in 2018 and that, in a 2021 government consultation on banning them 96% of people backed the proposal, yet still we are not there.

READ MORE Beach plastic: the truth according to those who pick it

Even harder given that earlier this year the government decided against banning wet wipes, following another consultation.

“What currently remains unclear,” said the UK government report, “is how effective a ban solely on the plastic contained in wet wipes would be in reducing blockages in sewers. With concerns existing over the effectiveness of the ‘Fine to Flush’ standard on blockages in sewers and the extent to which materials labelled as ‘Fine to Flush’ persist in waterways, an evidence gap remains.”

It’s no wonder some campaigners are describing the progress as “slug-like”.

You may yourself be asking why Scotland hasn’t got there first - and indeed some people seem to think that Scotland is trailing behind on this. But the reality is that the Internal Markets Act means that UK countries need to move together on this.

We only have to look at what’s happening over Deposit Return to see the potential for the Internal Markets Act to scupper any purely Scottish ban on wet wipes.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said this week, “The Scottish Government has been pressing the UK Government to take swifter action on this issue, so we welcome today’s news.”

There was also Scottish Water, last year, calling for a ban on wet wipes, and urging people to stop flushing them into our sewers. On the tour of my local sewage works, a Scottish Water spokesperson described how they had to send out “choke squads” to deal with around 36,000 blockages a year, at a cost of £7 million a year, 80 percent of which include wipes.

That wipes are one of our biggest marine litter issues is also clear from the results from last year’s Great British Beach Clean, which found that over the 13.51 km of Scottish beaches that were cleaned and surveyed, wet wipe litter had increased by an astonishing 150 percent.

READ MORE:Scotland's waters sewage-free? You're kidding 

Giving up wet wipes is, of course, not going to be easy. They have become as normalised as paper tissues, and, though there are biodegradable alternatives, how truly flushable many are remains questionable. There are other options, however - including the return of the old-fashioned flannel. 

But, when we rage about wipes, we should also think about other litter. Everywhere I’ve seen the wipes I have also found myself contemplating what else has ended up in the water there. My swimming life has become like a David Attenborough Wild Isles episode, switching between moments of wonder to those of horror and shame, never able to look at Eden in quite the same way.

My hope, therefore, is not just that we ban these wipes, but that we develop an approach to the licensing of products that ensures damaging waste doesn’t have to be banned piece by piece. This has to be possible. 

Without it, we’re always going to find there is other wet wipes, cotton bud, or vape cartridge, another damaging thing, gathering in our environment. We will never quite wipe our seas clean.