Knowing that viruses and harmful microorganisms stick to certain surfaces for a long time, some people have taken to wiping down tables, shelves, door handles and even chairs before using them. While it’s definitely a commendable hygiene practice, it has also increased the use of products like wet wipes. Contrary to popular belief, these are not just “wet wipes” because real tissue paper breaks easily when wet. Unfortunately, the synthetic materials in wet wipes make them environmental hazards in the long run, essentially on par with plastics. Rather than discouraging a good habit, this concept approaches the problem from a different angle, essentially providing wet wipes that can be cleaned and reused rather than being thrown away all the time.
Designer: Yeounju Lee
Despite their appearance as thick wipes or thin pieces of cloth soaked in disinfectants such as alcohol, most wet wipes are actually made in part from polyester or polypropylene fibers, sometimes woven with organic fibers such as cotton or wood pulp. That means these wipes don’t actually disintegrate when you flush them down the toilet, and certainly not after they reach the sewers or other places you might not want to imagine. These can take hundreds of years to actually decompose, and now pose a problem not unlike typical plastics.
The problem is that wet wipes, like ordinary plastic, are convenient. Their little packets are easy to slip into bags and are like a mix of tissue paper and fabric. Of course, a wipe would be more economical and environmentally friendly, but the hassle of washing and disinfecting after each use is too expensive for many people. What if we could automate that last part almost the same way we automate washing our own clothes? Re:clean is a concept that proposes to do just that, turning disposable wipes into reusable wipes.
Re:clean is basically a device that cleans, disinfects, moisturizes and dispenses these wet wipes, which are oddly shaped like a circle with a hole in the middle, pretty much like a CD. Used parts are top-loaded onto a spindle, while cleaned wipes are collected in portable storage boxes that you can simply pull out and slip into a bag for ready use whenever you need them. The machine has controls that allow the user to select the amount of water the wipes contain or the number of wipes to be dispensed per box.
It’s definitely a creative way to solve the soiling problem of wet wipes, although some might have concerns about using such materials over and over again. On the other hand, it’s really no different than washing rags, towels or chamois leather, except that everything is automated and regulated. Ideally, the wipes themselves can also be made from more sustainable materials, but even if they had the same composition as wet wipes, delaying their arrival in landfills and oceans can still have a positive impact on the environment.