The profound impact of an eight-year partnership to highlight the problem of plastic pollution in the Thames is laid bare in a new report.
The Thames River Watch programme – a joint project from Tideway and the environmental charity Thames21 – shows the incredible effect the programme has had in engaging communities, pushing the pollution issue up the agenda, and creating a bank of data showing the evolution of the Thames’s litter problem.
The programme was set up in 2014 to create a network of citizen scientists to collect essential data on the health of the River Thames.
It also sought to engage local communities, increase public understanding of the problem of plastic pollution, and to influence public policy.
And now, this new report details the profound effect of the programme in raising awareness and alerting the public and the media to the problem of plastic in the Thames.
A J McConville, Thames21’s Thames Programmes Manager, said: “London’s rivers are beautiful spaces for wildlife and for people, but they can also face great challenges, including plastic pollution.
“This report highlights how the Thames River Watch programme has tackled these challenges and is pioneering ways to give Londoners greater ownership and role in the protection of their rivers.
“Starting with citizen-science approaches to collecting data on the plastic pollution on the river, the data provided by volunteers has contributed to new proposed changes in legislation. We are glad to be working with Tideway who are working increasingly with local communities to raise awareness of the River Thames and help them to protect it.”
The issue of wet-wipes is a particularly stark one highlighted by the report, which details a site in Barnes where wet-wipes are regularly deposited by the Thames’s flow dynamics. The data shows an area the size of four tennis courts has grown in height by an astonishing 1m between 2014 and 2021.
As a result of the huge amount of attention the plastic problem has received thanks to the partnership, in 2019 Hollywood’s Zac Efron joined the Thames21 for a visit to a plastic litter hotspot in Rainham for his Netflix documentary, Down to Earth.
And thanks to joint funding from Thames Water and Tideway, the Thames River Watch programme is now funded until 2024.
John Sage, Tideway’s Head of Corporate Responsibility, added: “The Thames River Watch programme has played a really important role in helping Tideway to deliver our wider vision – to reconnect Londoners with the Thames – while we have been constructing the tunnel.
“This report shows how the programme has really engaged communities up and down the Thames and has demonstrated the scale of plastic pollution in the river.
“It is also providing important evidence for those campaigning for changes in the law to reduce impacts of plastic on the environment. Thames21 have been a wonderful partner and our teams love working with their talented and dedicated staff.”
The TRW programme sees volunteers participating in foreshore clean-ups, where litter is safely and consistently recorded.
Groups set out 1m2 quadrats on the foreshore and count the litter within. This data can then be used to measure the problem, the rate of change and to support new policy proposals.
To date, the TRW programme has:
- Organised 688 events, comprising more than 7,400 visits
- Engaged more than 2,000 students
- Collected nearly 92,000 wet-wipes and more than 130,000 plastic bottles
- Filled more than 17,000 bin bags with rubbish
Read the full report here.