Environmental charities and industry join forces to tackle River Mersey litter

Two major rivers trusts are joining forces to work with communities, researchers, and businesses in the plastics supply and waste management chain to identify plastic litter types in the Mersey catchment.

The Plastic Free Mersey project will be led by the Mersey Rivers Trust (MRT) and Thames21. It will build on the London charity’s award-winning litter survey work, which has identified the most common plastic litter items on the Tidal Thames.

A launch event took place at the Royal Liver Building on the banks of the Mersey on Thursday 22 July. Volunteers sorted previously collected litter into types, as a snapshot of the kinds of plastics in the River Mersey’s network of waterways.

Each year, 900 Mersey River Trust volunteers collect roughly 1,000 bin bags of litter (weighing around five tonnes in total), much of it plastic.

During the two-year project, trained volunteers will work as citizen scientists to sort, count and quantify plastic items they find at litter hotspots across the network of waterways, flowing from the Pennines to Liverpool Bay.

The litter will be safely removed and disposed of correctly.

By collecting data and information on plastic and other litter and on people’s habits, the project will tackle how society uses and disposes of plastic. It will shape behaviour change to keep litter out of waterways, thereby reducing its impact on the natural environment.

The charities will work in collaboration with LyondellBasell, one of the world’s largest producers of plastics and chemicals, INOVYN, Europe’s leading producer of vinyls and SUEZ, a global expert in the water and waste sectors. All have company sites in the River Mersey catchment. The project also has the support of the British Plastics Federation and PlasticsEurope.

The project aims to create and test an effective model of co-operation between NGOs, researchers, and the plastics industry to tackle plastic pollution in waterways. This model can then be applied to other river catchments in the UK and abroad.

The most common types of light plastic litter identified by Thames21’s latest statistics on the Tidal Thames are:

  • plastic food wrappers: 20%
  • cotton bud sticks: 16%
  • plastic drinks bottles or lids: 11%
  • plastic cups: 4%

In addition, Single-use plastic items made up 83% of all counted items

The project will identify if similar statistics apply to the River Mersey’s waterways or if there is a different mix of plastic litter types.

The organisations involved in the Plastic Free Mersey project share the belief that plastic waste has no place in the environment. Using a cross-sectoral approach, they aim to protect the health of the river and its ecosystems.

John Sanders, Director at Mersey Rivers Trust, said, “We are delighted to have seen a massive improvement in ecology and water quality in the River Mersey over the past 30 years.

“Unfortunately, plastic pollution has increased over the same period. Recent research and media coverage has brought the issue of plastic pollution in the Mersey to the fore.

“It’s therefore fantastic that the Mersey Rivers Trust, Thames21 and the plastics and waste industries are now working together to create a project that identifies how plastic litter gets into our rivers.  This will help us to protect the Mersey and the approach can be turned into a framework to help other rivers in the future.”

Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames21, said, “This is a hugely exciting initiative that will demonstrate very effectively how we can achieve much more by co-operating and working together, if we are to bring about real change to our rivers.

“Local residents will work together with local employees in the plastics and waste industries along the beautiful River Mersey towards their shared ambition of reducing plastic in the natural environment – supported by technical expertise of academia, industry and the environment sector.

“The results of this project will help shine a light on the way ahead.”, she concluded.

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