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River Thames Plastic Pollution
Plastic pollution is still a hot topic. There is masses of evidence and countless stories about how mass-produced plastic litters our land and oceans causing harm to the earth’s natural habitats.
It is well known that millions of tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our seas and rivers every year; in the UK alone, around 5,000 different kinds of plastic have been found per mile on beaches. Marine conservation charities have also reported that there are more than 150 plastic bottles scattered across every mile of the beaches in the UK.
Recent research shows that the River Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world. Scientists estimate that 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in places. This exceeds quantities that are measured in other European rivers such as the Danube, that flows through 10 countries in eastern Europe, and the Rhine, which has its sources in Switzerland and flows in a mostly northerly direction through Germany and the Netherlands into the North Sea.
What Plastics Were Found in the River?
Many forms of microplastics were found in the Thames. These include glitter, microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fragments from larger items as well as wet wipes flushed down the toilet, accumulating in large numbers on the shoreline forming so-called “wet wipe reefs”.
There is also concern that careless disposal of plastic gloves and masks during the coronavirus pandemic might make the problem of plastic pollution in the Thames, and elsewhere, even worse.
However, the biggest proportion of the microplastics came from the break-down of large plastics, with food packaging thought to be a significant source.
How is the Plastic Affecting Wildlife in the River?
Tiny bits of plastic have been found inside the bodies of two different species of crabs living in the Thames. These crabs contained tangled plastic in their stomachs, including fibres and microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.
Clams near the “wet wipe reefs” were also found to contain synthetic polymers, some of which may have originated from the wet wipes and other pollutants found such as sanitary items.
How Does Plastic Get There?
The plastic enters the river from a number of different sources. Fibres from washing machine outflows and sewage outfalls are both contributors, along with fragments from the break up of larger items such as bottles and packaging items that are washed into the river.
The War on Plastic
Our planet is becoming overrun with plastic pollution. Millions of tonnes of plastic wind up in the ocean and rivers every year. We are all responsible for the environment and, therefore, we must make a conscious effort to think about the plastic we use and throw away.
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