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Ten ways to reduce plastic in our canals

The amount of plastic and litter in our waterways had dropped by 30% at the start of 2020, thanks to our volunteers and everyone who has taken part in the Plastics Challenge so far. Don't let this fantastic effort go to waste.

Plastic in River Calder

Our committed volunteers spend hours out on the towpaths collecting litter, while our operational teams have to bring in equipment to clear sunken rubbish that has been dumped in the water.

It costs us around £1 million each year to deal with rubbish, and we're not able to collect all of it. Some of the plastic that gets thrown into our canals and rivers will end up drifting out into the oceans and contributing to the global plastics crisis.

During the pandemic, many more people visited their local canal or river, and sadly more people resulted in more litter. We urgently need to keep up the fight against plastic.

Although it seems like an enormous problem to solve, there are lots of things you can do at home and in your local area that will help.

Living Canal Mobile workshop participants on a clean of the Hertford Union Canal

Make a difference today

Here are some super easy ways to start reducing the plastic waste you generate and the amount that enters our waterways.

  1. Don't buy bottled water or hot drinks in disposable cups

Disposable cups may look and feel like cardboard, but they have a thin plastic lining to keep the liquid inside. To avoid these single-use containers, make sure you have a refillable bottle, flask or travel mug with you when you're out and about.

  1. Use your own shopping bags

Remember to take your own reusable bags every time you go shopping so that you don't have to buy a plastic bag. There are plenty of options made from strong natural materials, such as jute and cotton.

  1. Don't buy anything glittery

These days glitter is used in an enormous range of products, from clothing to shower gel. Most glitter is made from plastic and the small size of its particles makes it hard to filter out of wastewater, meaning it becomes a potential ecological hazard in our canals, rivers and oceans.

  1. Boaters: separate your recyclables and make use of recycling facilities

Most of the boaters' bins on our canals and rivers only accept bagged household rubbish, but we have an increasing number of recycling points. By using these points and separating your recycling from your general rubbish, you can help us avoid paying landfill tax. As a charity this is very important to us. We can put these savings towards looking after our waterways. Please use the points responsibly and don't add anything that can't be recycled. Even putting one small bag of general rubbish into the recycling bins means we'll be taxed.

  1. Choose glass or cans over plastic

Help to reduce the amount of plastic in circulation by opting for glass or cans where possible when you're buying things. Glass and cans get recycled back into more glass and cans, while plastic bottles generally get reprocessed into something else. This just creates more opportunities for bits of plastic to enter our environment and cause damage.

Home recycling facilities and alternatives to single-use plastic
  1. Avoid using cling film and foil

Aluminium foil and cling film use a lot of resources to produce and cling film can't be recycled. When packing your lunch to take to work or on a picnic, put it in re-useable containers or use eco-friendly cling film alternatives, such as beeswax wraps.

  1. Store your rubbish securely

When you're out for a waterside walk, cycle or boat trip, keep a tight hold of your rubbish until you reach a bin, so that it doesn't get blown into the water. Make sure all your rubbish bags are tied securely, placed right inside the bin and that any bin lids are closed. This helps to stop animals, like foxes and rats, from pulling rubbish out of the bin and making a mess.

  1. Boaters: choose natural fenders

Instead of using plastic fenders or tyres on your boat, choose ones made of natural rope. Make sure they're appropriately secured so that they don't drop off and become another piece of rubbish in the water.

  1. Show your clothes some love

Most new clothes are made of materials that contain plastic, such as polyester and nylon. This means that they shed tiny plastic fibres as you wear them and when they're washed, especially in the first few washes. These particles find their way through water treatment plants and end up in the rivers and oceans. To combat this, try to look after and repair your clothes, so that they last longer. When you do buy new clothes, choose natural materials, such as cotton, linen, bamboo and hemp.

  1. Pledge to join our Plastics Challenge and do a litter pick

As soon as it's safe to do so, plan a walk or a run that includes some time spent collecting litter along a canal or river. Make sure you follow government guidance for your local area. All you need are a pair of gloves and a collection bag. If you find it uncomfortable or difficult to bend down, you can buy a litter picker tool with a long handle for around £5 to £10.


Take our Plastics Challenge

Discover what you can do on your doorstep to tackle the global plastics crisis

Last Edited: 03 March 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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