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The River Thames: Rubbish Removal is Long Overdue

17th March 2014 by Alessandro Maccioni

So it appears there is an unseen monster lurking on the bottom of the Thames, killing the aquatic wildlife.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t possess any of the mystery of Scotland’s Nessie – this monster is completely manmade.

What I’m referring to is the stream of plastic that is clogging the bottom of the Thames’ riverbed, something which has recently been highlighted by scientists in a report from The National History Museum and Royal Holloway, University of London.

The research team had originally been using ‘fyke nets’ – a type of trap anchored to the riverbed – to catch Chinese mitten crabs while allowing endangered eels to slip through. But over a 3 month period, the team spent so long removing rubbish from the nets that they decided to carry out a full scale investigation into the amount of waste in the Thames.

Summer day on the River Thames in London.

A sunny day on the Thames in London.

The results are alarming to say the least.

In this short period, nearly 8500 pieces of plastic were removed from the nets, which was apparently only a fraction of the actual waste as larger objects such as plastic bags were too big to be caught.

The items included all sorts of rubbish from food wrappers and cups to cigarette packets to sanitary products – which were likely to have been flushed down the toilet without second thought.

The huge concern is the damaging effect this is having on the Thames’ ecosystem.

Yes, you might not think it, but the Thames does have an abundance of wildlife. Just in terms of fish alone, there are over a hundred species swimming along its currents.

But this study reveals how much the wildlife is at threat.

Not only do creatures get caught in the plastic, but the Thames’ tide also breaks up the waste into tiny fragments which are then eaten by the fish, birds and smaller animals such as crabs. What’s more, this introduces toxic chemicals into the North Sea, which the Thames runs into. It seems odd that whilst we are doing so much on land to help conserve wildlife with proper waste management, that we are largely ignoring the health of aquatic creatures.

The scary thing is, the city of London is seemingly oblivious to this submerged plastic menace. Even in our office, many members of the JunkWize team walk or drive across Tower Bridge, Putney Bridge and Wandsworth Bridge on a daily basis and never has anyone seen unusually large amounts of rubbish in it. Following the report, scientists are calling for consumer and waste clearance habits to change – which is why the more attention we bring to this the better.

As far as we’re aware, there aren’t any commercial rubbish removal companies that operate on the Thames, and a lot of the work seems to be placed on the shoulders of the Port of London Authority (PLA) and environmental charity Thames 21.

According to the PLA, there are a staggering 500 tonnes of rubbish removed from the Thames every year.

We always feel saddened when we read figures and reports like this. The Thames, which adds so much character to central London, should be a flourishing ecosystem – not a repository for shopping trolleys. But this is exactly what it becomes if we don’t properly reuse, recycle and take care of our waste in the proper way.

Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget that rubbish removal doesn’t just end at the end of our drive. It’s high time we take a collective effort to help preserve our urban waterways.

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