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Taking action on plastics

Plastics and litter in canals and rivers are part of a much bigger global problem. But players are helping support Canal & River Trust to take action on it.

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Waterways and well-being charity, Canal & River Trust is calling on people across England and Wales to help stop half a million pieces of plastic reaching the ocean by taking on its Plastics Challenge this summer.

The charity, which has received £8.7 million thanks to players, usually relies heavily on its army of volunteers to help clear waterways of plastic and litter, has had to put volunteering activity on hold due to Coronavirus. During this time, the need for people to ‘stay local’ has in some areas seen an increase in the number of people using their nearby towpath, and the litter and plastic they sometimes leave behind.

Following the launch of its Plastics Challenge last year, Trust volunteers donated more than 10,000 hours a month to tackle the plastics problem. This resulted in a 30% reduction in litter around its waterways.

Peter Birch, national environmental policy advisor at Canal & River Trust, said: "Our canals are great on-the-doorstep places for people to enjoy, however, the unintended consequence is that they can be highways to the ocean, taking 500,000 pieces of carelessly discarded plastic there each year.
"Thanks to the efforts of individual visitors, local communities and volunteers, we had seen great gains prior to lockdown, however, this trend could have reversed as our volunteers have been required to stay away and the use of towpaths has increased in many urban residential areas as people take their daily exercise."

Every year 14 million pieces of plastic end up in and around canals and rivers. These plastic bottles, food wrappers, bags and straws can be harmful for the fish, swans, ducks and birds that make the canals their home. It’s an ongoing issue and one that the charity’s volunteers help to keep on top of.

Whilst enjoying local canals and rivers, the Trust is asking visitors to carry out a short litter pick, and to be sure to follow current government guidelines on social distancing. If everyone who visits a Trust canal or river picks up just one piece of plastic, they’d be clear within a year.

To help everyone take part safely, the charity has created a handy guide. It shares helpful tips such as wearing gloves or using litter pickers and it highlights key things to be aware of when picking litter along the waterway.