News article created on 7 March 2018

Keeping your plastic out of the canal

No, we’re not talking about keeping GRP or plastic boats off the canal, but how boaters can contribute to reducing plastic pollution of our canals and rivers.

Cans and bottles floating in the canal behind a lock gate

Anyone who watched Blue Planet 2 cannot fail to be aware of the tremendous amount of damage plastic litter is causing to our seas and rivers and aquatic wildlife. Our canals and rivers are havens for wildlife too, and many of them ultimately flow out into the sea. So how can boater’s help to reduce the tide of plastic rubbish polluting the places we care about?


Let’s start with simple domestics onboard. Shopping, cooking, washing and cleaning, it’s almost impossible at present to totally avoid purchasing goods either made from, or wrapped in plastic.  Food wrappings, cleaning products, personal care items and much more all involve plastics of a variety of different types. Some plastics can be recycled, but others must be disposed of in household waste.

The Trust offers boaters many facilities to dispose of domestic waste whilst out cruising, and an increasing number of recycling facilities too.  However, there’s things all boaters can do to help prevent boater’s domestic rubbish from contributing to plastic pollution in our canals and rivers.

  • Store domestic rubbish securely onboard so that it can’t be blown or knocked off into the canal. This is particularly true for empty solid fuel bags which frequently foul lock gate paddles and boat propellers.
  • Bag all rubbish and ensure the bags are tied securely so that they can’t spill open.
  • Only dispose of your bagged domestic rubbish inside bins marked domestic waste and don’t forget to close the bin’s lid after use. If bin compounds are accessed using a Canal & River Trust key, don’t forget to lock up when you’ve finished as it helps prevent fly-tipping.
  • Don’t dump it! If the bins are full do not leave your rubbish on the floor but carry it with you on your journey to the next available waste disposal point.
  • Never dispose of your domestic rubbish in litter bins, they are not there for that purpose.
  • Don’t leave your bagged rubbish next to a litter bin either as it’s not a collection point for boater’s rubbish. Leaving bags next to a bin is also an invitation for animals to break into the bags looking for something to eat, spreading litter everywhere.
  • Recycle and reuse as much as you can.
  • Try to avoid buying goods with excessive plastic packaging and look for other ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use.


Whilst natural rope fenders are available, most boats tend to have fenders made out of plastic, whether it’s a balloon, pipe, cylindrical, corner, chubby, anchor or buoy. At a recent lock stoppage, the boating team were amazed to count so many lost plastic pipe fenders lurking in the bottom of the lock.

A simple way to prevent your fenders adding to the plastic in the canal is to make sure that you don’t have them dangling when cruising, bow and stern fenders excepted. When your fenders are in use, normally only whilst moored up, ensure they are properly secured. Alternatively, why not consider changing to natural rope fenders?

Join a Plastic Patrol or Towpath Taskforce

It’s not just boater’s rubbish in the canal, sadly it’s everybody’s rubbish, some blown from the streets and roads, and some even fly-tipped into our treasured waterways.

Why not consider helping clean up by joining a Plastic Patrol or Towpath Taskforce? Together we can all reduce the impact of plastic pollution. There are loads of events to choose from all around the country. Some events even involve paddle boarding and canoeing if you are feeling adventurous. Find out more at Towpath Taskforce or Plastic Patrol.

If you don’t fancy taking part in an organised event, why not pledge to pick up and dispose of at least one piece of canal side litter a day? Every piece of litter removed is one less piece of rubbish that could potentially foul a lock gate, foul your boat’s propeller, or make the bottom too close to the top!

Plastic rubbish caught in a weir

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The boating team

Find out what the Canal & River Trust's boating team have been up to.

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