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Environment

UK's Canals and Rivers Could be 'Plastic-Free in a Year' if Every Visitor Takes a Bit of Rubbish Away


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Global Goal 14 calls for action to protect life below water. And as the level of plastic in the world's oceans reaches crisis levels, destroying wildlife, and washing up on remote shores, small steps like keeping our local waterways clear of plastic can actually make a big difference. Over 500,000 pieces reach the oceans from UK canals and rivers each year, it is estimated. Join the anti-plastic movement by taking action here

The Canal & River Trust has issued a challenge to the British public to keep the country's canals and rivers free of plastic.

The nonprofit looks after 2,000 miles of the country’s waterways and has done some research in to the problem of plastic litter and how it finds it way from the UK’s rivers and canals and into the ocean.

They are now calling for help from the British community to help them clear up the waterways and tackle plastic waste at home and around the world.   

Working with Coventry University, the Canal & River Trust’s analysis found that across 25 rural and urban locations, plastic accounted for 59% of the waste found along and in canals.

The charity — which already spends £1 million every year cleaning up Britain's waterways — estimates that 570,000 pieces of plastic flow through Britain's waterways and into the ocean each year. 

In a statement, the trust said it is urging visitors who enjoy going for walks by canals to make sure litter isn’t dropped. They also suggested that if everyone who visits a canal or river took a piece of plastic away from them (without endangering themselves!), then the waterways could be plastic-free within a year.  

Canal LondonCanals and rivers in the city are vital green spaces. Pic: Anjana Menon, Unsplash



“We are on a mission to eradicate plastics from our vast network of canals and rivers — helping us all to live in better, more beautiful neighbourhoods, whilst tackling a global issue and making life better by water,” said Peter Birch, the national environmental policy advisor at the Canal & River Trust.  

Over 4 million people visit the nation’s waterways every two weeks, and 1 in 5 admit to dropping litter, the research shows.

So the advice from the trust is that every visitor makes a small contribution by keeping them clear of plastics, picking up and recycling a piece each time, join the groups of volunteers who go out and litter pick, or even “adopt” a small stretch of the canal to keep it tidy along with friends, family, or neighbours.

The research is really useful in showing how inland waste and litter from city and town centres is actually directly impacting the global plastic pollution crisis.

Related Stories Dec. 20, 2018 10 Simple Ways to Reduce Single-Use Plastics in Your Life

Studies show that around 80% of the plastics and litter found in our oceans comes from inland waste that passes through rivers and canals around the world, and out to sea.  

In fact, Birch says, while being vital green spaces for the nation’s towns and cities, canals and rivers can “inadvertently act as ‘plastic highways’ transporting rubbish from where we live to the sea."  

“Not only is this a huge problem for wildlife, which can be harmed, but it also detracts from these special and important wellbeing places in our towns and cities," Birch added. "We believe that everyone deserves beauty on their doorstep and by taking action locally they will also be helping tackle a global issue."

The campaign comes as part of the organisation's participation in the Year of Green Action campaign, launched by the UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), working with the #IWill4Nature campaign to encourage youth environmental action. 

  • You can download a family plastics challenge pack from Canal & River Trust here