Plastic bag charge and beach litter: Thames21 open letter

Here is Thames21’s open letter in response to last week’s story about the reported reduction in plastic bag litter following the plastic bag charge.

Thames21 was pleased to hear the reported impact of the plastic bag charge on beach litter last week and proud to be part of the Break the Bag Habit coalition of environmental charities which helped bring about the plastic bag charge.

The Thames is a major artery for litter into the marine environment, and as London’s leading waterways charity we monitor both litter and water quality through our Thames River Watch citizen science programme. We will be watching to see if the same trend repeats here. However, on key Thames litter hotspots sites like the Isle of Dogs it is difficult to determine how much of the plastic bag litter we see is new plastic bags, and how much is embedded historic plastic bags. Over the years we have removed tonnes of plastic bags trapped in the silt here, on their way out the Thames Estuary, but still more remain.

The worrying fact is that ultimately, all plastic will only break down into microplastic. It does not disappear, it remains in the environment. Thames River Watch’s most recent report recorded more than 33,000 pieces of plastic, less than 2.5cm in size, found through its litter transects. Of the foreshore squares we surveyed, 59 per cent of them contained tiny fragments of plastic or polystyrene.