Waterways plastic challenge

Waterway pollution
Call to ‘act local’ to stop plastics entering the UK’s rivers and canals & ending up in the world’s oceans.


Canal & River Trust has published research about the volume of plastics and litter found in its waterways. 

The waterways and wellbeing trust cares for 2,000 miles of canals and river navigations in England and Wales. It is urging communities to take action on their doorstep to make their local neighbourhood beautiful and help tackle the global plastics crisis. 

Working with Coventry University, the charity has published a detailed analysis of the plastics and other litter found in its waterways.  The research, which reviewed data from 25 locations, found that plastics now account for 59 percent of waste found along its canals. 

Eradicate plastics

The trust's analysis estimates that 570,000 items of plastic reach the world’s oceans each year via its waterways. With the help of local communities this figure could be drastically cut.

Peter Birch, national environmental policy advisor at Canal & River Trust, said: “By taking a little care of their local waterway, everyone can have beauty on their doorstep. 

"The Canal & River Trust is 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.”

Studies show that around 80 perent of the plastics and litter found in our oceans comes from inland waste that passes through water-courses around the world and out to sea.

Peter added: “Devastatingly, despite being vital green corridors in the nation’s towns and cities, our canals and rivers can inadvertently act as ‘plastics highways’, transporting rubbish from where we live out to sea."

Global issue 

Peter continued: "Not only is this a huge problem for wildlife, which can be harmed, it also detracts from these special and important wellbeing places in our towns and cities.

"We believe everyone deserves – and can help create - beauty on their doorstep, and by taking action locally, they will also be helping tackle a global issue.”

As canals and rivers become more accessible – over four million people visit them every two weeks – and with almost one in five people admitting to dropping litter, a lot of this can unfortunately end up in our waterways.

The vast majority of the litter found along and in the canals each year is potentially recyclable or could be re-used in creative and innovative ways. 

The Trust is calling on every visitor to its waterways to make their own small contribution to help keep them clear of plastics, whether by picking up and recycling a piece each time they visit, joining the Trust’s growing band of volunteers, or even adopting a short stretch of their local canal with friends, neighbours or colleagues. 

Get involved 

The Trust is supporting Defra’s Year of Green Action and working with #iwill4nature, encouraging youth environmental action. It has also published a downloadable free family plastics and litter activity pack which highlights to children the importance of taking action to prevent it.

Richard Parry, chief executive of Canal & River Trust, said: “We know that life is better by water and more people than ever appreciate the benefits of spending time alongside our waterways, right at the heart of thousands of communities across the country. 

"Plastic and litter free canals are beautiful, inspiring places for people to enjoy, whether for everyday use or a one-off visit, whilst also being hugely important habitats for some of the nation’s much loved and endangered species. Help us tackle a global issue by taking action on your doorstep today.”

This Article 

This article is based on a press release from the Canal & River Trust. 

To find out how you can help support Canal & River Trust’s Plastics Challenge, read the research report, and follow the campaign on social media @CanalRiverTrust #PlasticsChallenge.

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