New data finds that over 60% of the litter in the River Thames would disappear if we moved away from single-use items

According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and waterways charity Thames21, over 60% of the litter in the Thames basis would disappear if we moved away from single-use items.

According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and waterways charity Thames21, over 60% of the litter in the Thames basis would disappear if we moved away from single-use items.  

This claim follows a series of clean-ups along the tidal river and its tributaries, with the data stating that most of the litter found was single-use, including metal drink cans, food packaging and plastic drinks bottles.  


The clean-ups were carried out as part of the Waitrose & Partners, MSC beach and river clean programme. 

Thames21 ran 20 river clean events towards the end of 2017, and into 2018 at Thames tributaries and tidal Thames sites, and the evidence was compared to MCS beach litter data from four beach cleans at Southend-on-Sea.  

Depending on which part of the Thames the clean-up took place, different items were the main problem.  

Metal drinks cans were commonly found on the tributaries, but fewer on the Thames foreshore, wet wipes were found in huge numbers in the foreshore, while glass and unrecognisable plastic litter dominated at the estuary cleans.  

The concentration of litter items found per 100m rose as the Thames made its way towards the sea, said MCS.  

16 events took place at Thames tributaries, with volunteers finding that 78% of the items that they picked up were single-use.  

The four events on the Thames foreshore found that 86% of the litter items recorded were single-use. 

At Southend-on-Sea, just under half of all items found (48%), were single-use, but the concentration of small pieces of litter increased, with 2,520 items per every 100m surveyed. 

Of the 2,520 items, 560 were unrecognisable, small plastic items.  

MCS beach watch manager Lauren Eyles said: “We find much more unidentified, tiny plastic at these sites because the plastic has been floating around for some time. However, they may well have once been single-use. Beach cleaners are far more likely to find microplastics these days than larger identifiable items.” 

Both MCS and Thames21 are calling for a deposit return scheme (DRS).  

Thames21 chief executive Debbie Leach said: “These findings clearly show that we urgently need a Deposit Return Scheme, as well as alternatives to single-use. Eighty per cent of the waste we found on the Thames foreshore, and nearly the same amount on the tributaries would disappear if we moved away from single-use items; and one way to do this is through a DRS.” 

Waitrose head of corporate social responsibility, health and agriculture Tor Harris said: “The marine and river environment is important to all of us which is why we we’re delighted to have partnered with MCS for their ‘Source to Sea’ programme. The evidence will help us, and others, focus on reducing pollution from materials such as plastics. Our customers are very engaged in the issue of plastic pollution, so initiatives like this help both customers and Partners get actively involved in addressing the problem and finding alternatives to single-use plastic.”

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