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 in our canals and rivers.

Cans and bottles floating in the canal behind a lock gate

News stories and environmental documentaries are regularly showing us all the tremendous amount of damage plastic litter is causing to our oceans and aquatic wildlife.

Our canals and rivers are havens for wildlife too, and many of them ultimately flow out into the ocean. So how can boaters help to reduce the tide of plastic rubbish polluting the places we care about?

Disposing of your rubbish

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.

We offer boaters many facilities to dispose of domestic waste while out cruising, and an increasing number of recycling facilities too. However, there are things all boaters can do to help prevent 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 water or onto the towpath. 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 one of our keys, 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 don't leave your rubbish on the floor. Carry it with you on your journey to the next available waste disposal point.
  • Never dispose of your domestic rubbish in litter bins as 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 boaters' 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.
Plastic rubbish caught in a weir Plastic rubbish caught in a weir

Choose your fender wisely

While natural rope fenders are available, most boats tend to have fenders made out of plastic, whether it’s a balloon, pipe, cylindrical shape, 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 you don’t have them dangling when cruising, bow and stern fenders excepted. When your fenders are in use, normally only while moored up, ensure they are properly secured. Alternatively, why not consider changing to natural rope fenders?

Get involved in litter picking

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

Why not consider helping clean up by joining our volunteer Towpath Taskforce? There are groups based on waterways all over our network and they often organise litter picking sessions. 

If you don’t fancy taking part in an organised event, why not join our Plastics Challenge and pledge to do your own regular litter pick? Every piece of litter you remove is one less piece of rubbish that could potentially foul a lock gate, foul your boat’s propeller, or make the bottom of the waterway too close to the top.

Last date edited: 3 February 2021

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The boating team blog

Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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