Biggest Contributors To Freshwater Plastic Pollution Revealed

The Plastic Rivers report, published today (8 April) in association with Plastic Oceans UK, has analysed data from nine studies of freshwater sources across the UK and Europe, revealing the top ten plastic pollutants in the UK’s rivers and lakes. 

It ranked types of macroplastic by prevalence, focusing on consumer items and excluding items relating to fishing, agriculture and industry. 

Plastic bottles are the biggest contributor to freshwater plastic pollution, followed by food wrappers and cigarette butts, the research found.

Much of the plastics focus to date has been on the shocking impact pollution is having on ocean species, but up to 80% of the plastic in our seas actually comes from rivers. Understanding the situation in freshwater environments is an essential but often overlooked factor in stemming the tide of plastic reaching our oceans.

Plastic Oceans UK – “As the first plastic pollution NGO in the UK, we are always looking to find clear evidence and are pleased to work closely with our partner, Earthwatch. We see this report as an important and engaging contribution to the debate, to inform everyone and show how easily we can change our lifestyle and behaviours to prevent this insidious pollution.”

Research Manager Debbie Winton, who authored the report, said: “It’s really encouraging that plastic pollution is now at the forefront of many people’s minds, but with so much information out there it can be hard to understand the best ways to make a difference. Our report provides simple, evidence-based recommendations to show people exactly what changes they can make – and the positive impact those changes will have on our waterways.”

Jo Ruxton, CEO of Plastic Oceans UK, said: “The Plastic Rivers report shows that the products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic. Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down our toilets. This throw-away approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.

“As the first plastic pollution NGO in the UK, we are always looking to find clear evidence and are pleased to work closely with our partner, Earthwatch. We see this report as an important and engaging contribution to the debate, to inform everyone and show how easily we can change our lifestyle and behaviours to prevent this insidious pollution.”

The report aims to help consumers in the UK make a real difference by providing practical alternative options. It is accompanied by a free downloadable guide to the top pollutants and the best ways to reduce their prevalence, alongside a sheet for households to pledge the changes they’re going to make.

For businesses and policy makers the report provides suggestions for how to make it easier for consumers to make more sustainable choices.

Debbie Winton continues: “If implemented quickly, our recommendations have the potential to significantly reduce plastic pollution in the UK well in advance of any impact that will be achieved from policy changes, and to inform the policies themselves.”

The top 10 plastic pollutants in rivers and lakes:

  1. Plastic bottles and lids
  2. Food wrappers (crisp packets and sweet wrappers)
  3. Cigarette butts
  4. Sanitary items (nappies, sanitary towels, tampons and wet wipes)
  5. Plastic or polystyrene takeaway containers
  6. Cotton bud sticks
  7. Plastic or polystyrene cups
  8. Smoking-related packaging
  9. Plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery
  10. Plastic bags

To access the full report, click here.


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    • Couldn’t agree more Paul. I hope that no public money was invested in producing this report.
      We’ve know for decades that litter and fly-tipping near river banks is washed in the sea sooner or later so why all this hoo-hah?
      There are far too many ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ pontificating these days about ‘new measures’ to deal with problems we’ve been trying to address for decades.
      It’s high time we all recognised that we (ie the UK) are a dirty nation and money needs to be spent clearing up after the clowns.

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