Ten ways to reduce plastic in our canals

Thanks to everyone who’s already joined our Plastics Challenge, the amount of plastic and litter in our canals and rivers dropped by 30% in the last year. But without your help, this fantastic effort could now go to waste.

Plastic in River Calder Plastic in River Calder

As more people return to enjoying their local waterways over the summer, we urgently need to keep up the fight against plastic.

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.

Although it seems like an enormous problem to solve, there are many 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 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 Recycle at home and find 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. Join our Plastics Challenge and plan a litter pick 

Plan a walk or a run that includes some time spent collecting litter along a canal or river. All you need is 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.

Become a Blue Guardian

Make a monthly donation and support our work to remove plastic and harmful waste from our waterways before it reaches the ocean.

Last date edited: 3 July 2020