The UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), has joined forces with waterways charity Thames21, on a series of river cleans made possible by the support of one of the country’s leading supermarkets.  

MCS has been working with Waitrose since last summer on the Waitrose Beach and River Clean-up series. So far, almost 700 beach cleans have taken place involving over 10,000 volunteers. Now, the charity is helping run a series of 20 river cleans using a similar recording system it uses at its beach cleans. 

Cleaning up litter on the Thames

MCS has joined forces with prominent waterways charity Thames21 in a pilot project to investigate the link between river and marine litter.

Thames21 will be running a clean-up at The Bull Brook, Horndean Road, Bracknell, Berkshire at 11am on Monday 5th March. Thames 21 work with communities to shape and deliver sustainable environmental change for rivers, with the ultimate vision of putting healthy rivers at the heart of community life. 
Waitrose has donated £500,000 from its carrier bag funds to MCS allowing the charity to put on more clean-ups and mobilise larger numbers of volunteers than ever before in the fight back against the rising tide of plastic litter on our beaches and now in rivers, too. 

Rivers are being harmed by a variety of different pollutants, including large amounts of plastic. The litter found in the UK’s rivers eventually ends up in our coastal waters. MCS says that recording the types of litter found in certain tributaries of the country’s most iconic river – the Thames – will give both organisations a more complete picture of the source to sea journey of litter.   

Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Manager says the introduction of river cleans will support the growth of the MCS beach clean programme, which leads the way in collecting coastal litter data: 

These cleans, along the Thames corridor this spring and summer as part of our Waitrose Beach and River Clean project funded by Waitrose, will give us a greater opportunity to increase our understanding of the link between inland behaviour and litter on our beaches. We think it will have a positive impact on individual behaviour of Waitrose staff and customers who will be encouraged to take part along with the wider public.

MCS will be collating the data it collects from the 20 planned events and using it as a pilot study to look at comparisons with beach litter data. We already know that 80% of ocean plastic comes from land and enters the sea via our rivers.   

Rivers are undeniably a conduit for plastic and other litter to enter the marine environment, yet we need to better understand how this is happening.

said Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames21.

Once the relationship between how litter moves from the land into our rivers and seas is more deeply understood, we can then identify ways to prevent it. Thanks to data collected from our Thames River Watch citizen science programme, we are already documenting the scale of the problem on the Thames. Last year, we found 4500 wet wipes in just one spot of the Thames foreshore in a single day, making it the highest number of wet wipes ever recorded in one place. 

By collaborating with MCS, we are building a clearer picture on the links between river litter and marine litter and collectively helping to solve one of the most pressing issues our rivers and oceans face today.

Tor Harris, Head of Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability at Waitrose, said:

Supporting the Marine Conservation Society’s beach and river cleans is one of many ways we are trying to help the environment.  

We’ve committed to making all our own-label packaging widely recyclable (using the widely recycled logo), reusable or home compostable by 2025. From September 2018 we will also stop selling packs of plastic straws. We were the first supermarket to stop selling products containing microbeads and exclusively sell paper-stem cotton buds.
We’re excited for as many people as possible to join us in cleaning our local rivers to improve them for wildlife and all of us.

MCS will be collaborating with Thames21 at sites including Maidenhead, Thame, Staines and Reading. To register and find out about all 20 river cleans visit their Beachwatch events page

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