Snow-covered trees on the banks of the River Bann, Ireland

Care for rivers this Christmas without leaving your home

Take heed of our advice for making your festive celebrations more river-friendly.

Rebecca Duncan


As the holidays approach, we’re looking forward to time spent with family and friends in the outdoors – and our traditional Boxing Day walk along the river! For those of us who love rivers, though, it can sometimes feel like we are swimming against the tide of river pollution and degradation. But if we keep fighting together, we can build a better future for our rivers. This can begin right now, even in your own home, over the festive season. Here’s our advice for looking after rivers, and others, this Christmas.

Don't spoil with oil

Grease and oils accumulate in sewers and gradually turn into large fatbergs, which really are just as disgusting as they sound. When fatbergs form, they can block sewers, making it more likely that the sewage will either back up into buildings, or be discharged directly into rivers through storm combined sewer overflows. It’s vital to never rinse cooking oil or fat down the sink. Instead, let it cool, maybe have some Christmas pudding, and then wipe your fats into the bin. Alternatively, some areas will allow you to put oil in your food waste bin. You can check for more specific guidance on this through your local council.

Only flush the three Ps

Just like your kitchen sink, anything that gets flushed down the loo has a chance of ending up in rivers. Therefore, there are only three things that should ever be flushed down the toilet: pee, poo and paper. Other items like wet wipes or sanitary products are not fully biodegradable and can cause sewage blockages, which make river pollution more likely. The issue is compounded by the fact that many of these objects also contain microplastics, which causes further harm to the water environment.

Go plastic-free

Overall, Christmas can be a nightmare for plastic consumption. From wrapping paper and toys to fake trees and crackers, it can feel hard to escape from plastic hell! It might be that you decide to eliminate one type of single-use plastic from your festive season, such as only buying loose fruit and veg, or only using decorations without glitter in them. If you’re interested in getting more creative, try making your own plastic-free crackers (lots of eco-friendly shops have kits to do this), or use fabric to wrap presents so it can be recycled and passed down year on year. For more inspiration on reducing plastic at Christmas, our partners at Preventing Plastic Pollution have a few tips for you.

Clean with care

For lots of us, Christmas means frantically cleaning the house from top to bottom in anticipation of visitors. It’s easy to forget the products we use in the sink, toilet, shower, laundry machine and dishwasher could wind up in our rivers. Lots of these contain chemicals which are toxic to aquatic life, or phosphates which lead to harmful algal blooms. Opt for eco-friendly products wherever possible. For more information on this, Ethical Consumer has a good online guide to buying cleaning products.

Gift green (or blue)

If you’re trying to be more eco-friendly this Christmas, why not think outside the box when you buy your presents? Sourcing your gifts from a zero-waste shop, or even second-hand is much better for the environment than buying new, and it means you’re likely to find something really unique.

Of course, donating to charity is another sustainable gift option. For us to continue delivering river improvements across the UK and Ireland, we need all the help we can get, so please consider signing up to become a monthly supporter, giving a one-off donation, or buying from our range of festive cards and special river-themed Christmas jumpers.

This is just a small selection of ways to make your celebrations more sustainable, and there is plenty of other information out there if you’d like to do more. For now, we wish you a happy, safe, healthy Christmas.

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