Is the plastics crisis the last straw for the future of our rivers?

Jayne Mann


On Wednesday 19th June, a comprehensive survey of plastics in rivers was released by Greenpeace, which revealed some shocking results about the state of our rivers in the UK. The leading headline was that the River Mersey was found to be proportionately more polluted than the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This year, we are celebrating 25 years since the first local Rivers Trust set up. In this time, we’ve come such a long way in fighting things that are unseen to the public eye, such as, historical pollution, phosphates, chemicals, abstraction and of course the increasing impacts of climate change. All this hard work and dedication has led to salmon being spotted in the centre of Sheffield, otters appearing near Manchester and some of our rivers are more natural and supporting more wildlife than we’ve seen in over 100 years. But now we have a new fight to add to our list. Plastic. A frightful epidemic that we are all addicted to. As time goes on the plastic in the rivers grind down into tiny micro and nano-plastics and become significantly harder to eradicate. But it isn’t just wet wipes and plastic bottles, though these are some of the worst offenders, the latest BBC programme ‘War on Plastic’, presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani, found even tiny micro-fibres are getting into our water system from our clothes. The extent of the problem is huge and it is in all our hands to fix. Here are some of the headline stats found in the Greenpeace report:
  1. All 13 UK Rivers tested contained plastic
  2. A total of 1,271 pieces of plastic were captured
  3. The highest concentration of plastics was found in the River Mersey
  4. Microbeads were found in 5 of 13 rivers
  5. 7 locations contained plastic pellets called ‘nurdles’
  6. 80% of polymer types were polyethylene and polypropylene used to make plastic products such as food packaging, milk, plastic bags and water bottles.
The Rivers sampled were: the Exe, Thames, Severn, Great Ouse, Trent, Mersey, Aire, Derwent, Wear, Conwy, Wye, Clyde and Lagan. Read the full report here. Alistair Maltby, Operations Director at The Rivers Trust, said: “Litter is the most visual indication of the pollution of our rivers, and we are all now deeply aware of how this is impacting our oceans and wildlife. We are concerned that this report is indicative of much more insidious pollution that we cannot see and commend Greenpeace for taking steps to highlight the extent of the issue of micro-plastics throughout our UK rivers.”

So what can you do to help stop plastic from reaching our rivers?

Join us on a litter pick!

Join us on the front line to fight the plastic problem in our rivers. Litter picks are still vital to fighting this issue, without picking up the litter that is already out there, we risk it grinding down into small fragments that we can’t yet get rid of. Last year, our local Rivers Trusts held more than 550 litter picks and we were lucky enough to have had the support of over 1200 volunteers. So put on your best wellies, and join your local Rivers Trust on a litter pick.

Give up single-use plastic!

We know that this is easier said than done but reduce and reuse as much as you possibly can. Single-use plastic is nearly always unnecessary and sadly it is large corporates and manufacturers pushing it upon us.

Ditch the wet wipe!

And certainly, never flush them, even if it says flushable. There are currently no advertising standards to stop the term ‘flushable’ being used on packaging which is pretty outrageous considering we know for a fact that they aren’t flushable. Don’t believe us? Check out this report by Thames21.

Donate to help protect and improve rivers for future generations!

Even the smallest donation can help us continue to fight against pollution, climate change and of course plastic. Your donation will help us continue to fight for the future of rivers and make sure that they are fit for people and wildlife. Take a look at our Twitter moment about Rivers Trusts fighting plastic and some of the sights they've seen in our UK rivers:
Back to top