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The charity making life better by water

Take action and join our Plastics Challenge

Help us tackle plastic in our canals and rivers and stop it from travelling into in the world’s oceans.

Moorhen in its next, made with plastic wrappers and litter, on the canal
  • New research states that more than half a million items of plastic reach the oceans from our canals and rivers every year
  • If every visitor picked up and recycled just one piece of plastic each time they visit, the canals and rivers could be plastic free in a year
  • We spend over £1 million a year to help keep our waterways free of plastics and other discarded waste

We're urging communities to take action on their doorstep to make their local neighbourhood beautiful and help tackle the global plastics crisis – don't drop it, pick it up and recycle it to help make the nation's canals and rivers plastics free.

Working with Coventry University, we've published a detailed analysis of the plastics and other litter found in our waterways. The research, which reviewed data from 25 locations, found that plastics now account for 59% of waste found along our canals. We estimate that 570,000 items of plastic reach the world's oceans each year via our waterways. With the help of local communities this figure could be drastically cut.

Peter Birch, national environmental policy advisor at Canal & River Trust, says: “We are on a mission to eradicate plastics from our vast network of canals and rivers – helping us all to live in better, more beautiful neighbourhoods, whilst tackling a global issue, and making life better by water.”

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"By taking a little care of their local waterway, everyone can have beauty on their doorstep."
Peter Birch, national environmental policy advisor

Studies show that around 80% of the plastics and litter found in our oceans comes from inland waste that passes through water-courses around the world and out to sea.

Peter adds: “Devastatingly, despite being vital green corridors in the nation's towns and cities, our canals and rivers can inadvertently act as ‘plastics highways', transporting rubbish from where we live out to sea. Not only is this a huge problem for wildlife, which can be harmed, it also detracts from these special and important wellbeing places in our towns and cities. We believe everyone deserves – and can help create - beauty on their doorstep, and by taking action locally, they will also be helping tackle a global issue.”

As canals and rivers become more accessible – over four million people visit them every two weeks – and with almost one in five people admitting to dropping litter, a lot of this can unfortunately end up in our waterways. The vast majority of the litter found along and in the canals each year is potentially recyclable or could be re-used in creative and innovative ways.

We are calling on every visitor to our waterways to make their own small contribution to help keep them clear of plastics, whether by picking up and recycling a piece each time they visit, joining our growing band of volunteers, or even adopting a short stretch of their local canal with friends, neighbours or colleagues.

We're supporting Defra's Year of Green Action working with #iwill4nature encouraging youth environmental action.

Richard Parry, chief executive of Canal & River Trust, says: “We know that life is better by water and more people than ever appreciate the benefits of spending time alongside our waterways, right at the heart of thousands of communities across the country. Plastic and litter free canals are beautiful, inspiring places for people to enjoy, whether for everyday use or a one-off visit, whilst also being hugely important habitats for some of the nation's much loved and endangered species. Help us tackle a global issue by taking action on your doorstep today.”

Last Edited: 06 September 2019

photo of a location on the canals
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