10 ways to reduce plastic in our canals

It’s a sad fact that our canals and rivers are becoming increasingly affected by plastic waste. Read on to find out more about how you can help us tackle plastic pollution.

'Trolly' graphic showing make up of plastic and litter in our waterways 'Trolly' graphic showing make up of plastic and litter in our waterways

It was heart-breaking to watch the Blue Planet II series, which highlighted the large amount of plastic found in our oceans, and consequently in the animals that live there.

Exactly the same situation is taking place on our 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, in fact a staggering 80 per cent of marine debris comes from inland sources.

Here at the Trust we have endless plastic and fly-tipping incidents to deal with. The problems range from general litter being dropped by the public to significant dumping of waste onto our towpaths and into our waterways.

Plastic rubbish caught in a weir

It costs us around £1million each year to deal with these incidents, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of the plastics found in our canals when drained remains there, as we currently have insufficient funds to remove it.

There are calls for tighter regulations on waste flowing into urban waterways, but how can we, as individual waterway users, make a difference?

Make a difference every day

Here are some super easy ways to start reducing the waste you generate and the amount entering our waterways:

1. Don’t buy bottled water and coffee in disposable cups 

Instead keep a refillable bottle or thermos handy.

2. Bring your own shopping bags 

Remember to bring your own bags every time you shop and avoid products with excess packaging, especially when picnicking alongside the waterways.

3. Help us clean up 

Join one of our a Towpath Taskforce events. There are loads of events to choose across the country, some involving paddle boarding and canoeing if you are feeling adventurous. 

4. Avoid cling film and foil 

Aluminium foil and cling film use a lot of resources to produce and cling film can’t be recycled, so when packing your waterside picnic, use eco-friendly sandwich wrap alternatives (like beeswax wraps) or reuseable containers.

5. Don’t buy products with microbeads 

Much of the plastic polluting our waterways and oceans is microplastics, which derive from bigger items breaking down but also from consumer products. Some estimates place the number of microplastics in the world’s ocean at up to 51 trillion fragments. Avoid items with ‘polypropylene’ or ‘polyethylene’ on the ingredients list and go for natural biodegradable alternatives.

6. Don’t buy glitter

Most glitter is made from plastic and the small size of its particles makes it a potential ecological hazard. It’s not just young children who enjoy using glitter – it’s used in a wide range of products, like clothing, greeting cards and shower gel, so avoid these products unless you know they're made from a biodegradable alternative.

7. Use eco products

With lower phosphate type soaps for washing up, and household or boat cleaning.

8. Store your rubbish securely

Whether you are out for a waterside walk, cycle or boat trip, make sure you keep hold of your rubbish securely until you reach a bin, so it doesn’t get blown into the canal. And make sure all rubbish bags are tied securely and bin lids are closed when you reach a waste disposal point.

Leeds Roller Derby skaters litter picking

9. Separate your recyclables and make use of recycling facilities

On our waterways, most of our rubbish compounds only accept boaters’ bagged domestic rubbish, but we have an increasing number of recycling points. By separating recycling from general rubbish, we avoid paying landfill tax and this helps save the Trust money if people use the facilities responsibly. If someone puts a bag of general mixed waste in a recycling bin, the whole bin will be treated by our contractors as mixed waste and the tax will be charged on the whole load.

10. This one’s for boaters, control those fenders  

A frightening number of plastic and tyre boat fenders end up at the bottom of our locks. Consider changing to natural rope fenders and don’t leave them dangling when cruising – except bow and stern fenders. When your fenders are in use, make sure they are properly secured.

Last date edited: 10 June 2019