Since viruses and harmful microorganisms are known to stick to certain surfaces for long periods of time, some people are in the habit of cleaning tables, shelves, doorknobs and even chairs before using them. While it is certainly a recommended hygiene practice, the use of products such as wet wipes has also increased. Contrary to common misconceptions, these are not just “wet tissues” as real tissue paper breaks down easily when wet. Unfortunately, the synthetic materials in wet wipes make them environmentally hazardous in the long run, basically on the same level as plastics. Rather than discouraging a good habit, this concept attacks the problem from a different angle by essentially providing wet wipes that can be cleaned and reused instead of being thrown away all the time.
Designer: Yeounju Lee
Despite their appearance as thick tissues or thin pieces of cloth drenched in a disinfectant such as alcohol, most wet wipes are partially made of polyester or polypropylene fibers, sometimes woven with organic fibers such as cotton or wood pulp. This means these wipes won’t break when you flush them down the toilet, and they certainly won’t end up in sewers or other places you wouldn’t want to imagine. These can take hundreds of years to actually decompose, which poses a problem, unlike normal plastic.
The problem is that, like common plastic, wet wipes are convenient. Their small packages can easily be slipped into bags, and look like a cross between tissue paper and cloth. A cleaning cloth would, of course, be more economical and environmentally friendly, but the chore of washing and sanitizing after each use is too expensive for many people. What if we could automate that last bit almost the same way we automate washing our own clothes? Re:clean is a concept that directly proposes turning single-use wet wipes into reusable wet tissues.
In practice, Re:clean is a device that cleans, disinfects, wets, and distributes these wet tissues that come strangely in the shape of a circle with a hole in the middle, much like a CD. Used pieces are loaded onto a spindle from the top, and cleaned wet tissues are collected in portable storage boxes that you pull out and bag, ready to use at any time. The machine has controls that allow the user to select the amount of water the tissues will hold or the number of tissues to dispense per box.
It is certainly a creative way to solve the pollution problem of wet wipes, although some may be skeptical about reusing such materials over and over again. Then again, it’s not really any different from washcloths, towels, or chamois, except that everything is automated and controlled. Ideally, the wet tissues themselves can also be made from more sustainable materials, but even if they were of the same composition as wet wipes, delaying arrival to landfills and oceans.