Communications Manager Ian Lamont reports on a discovery of a huge number of single us plastic bottles in Thamesmead and explains how it fits into Thames21’s wider work
“How many single use plastic drinking bottles do you think we found in one day, across 11 sites on the Thames foreshores?”
It is one of the leading questions we use for new volunteers and in our education programmes, especially when we are talking about our Thames River Watch project.
The citizen science project, carrying out its twice yearly Big Count in September 2016, collected 2,500 bottles in one day from those 11 sites – and 4,000 were collected over the course of the month during repeat visits to those areas of the Thames foreshore. The statistics have made headlines around the world and been used in a debate and publication by the London Assembly.
The biggest numbers collected at individual sites were just over 500 each at Greenwich, Crabtree Wharf and Queenhithe.
Now, our Thamesmead project has blown that statistic out of the water, thanks to employees at HSBC who took part in a clean up on the Thames foreshore, close to Redbourne Drive, which was not one of those 11 sites surveyed last September.
As well as removing 25 large bags of general litter at a site which is not cleaned up very often, the group collected a staggering 1,300 single use plastic bottles – and that was just from a 200 metre stretch of the 500 metre site. The collection was made just before London Rivers Week (June 26 to July 2). It was perfectly timed – it seems – right ahead of Plastic Free July, an Australian campaign with plenty of visibility in the UK, which highlights the destructive nature of plastic in our waterways, from rivers and canals to the oceans.
The tally of 1,300 is the biggest number ever collected in one day at a single site by Thames21 and continues to show the depth of the problem which prompted the London Assembly to quote our research as part of the Zoological Society of London’s #OneLess campaign.
Our ThamesRiver Watch research showed that bottles are one of the top 10 items tallied and that 49% of single-use plastic bottles collected by the project since it began in 2014 were for water – something which Londoners can take from their taps.
The committee’s debate in February was entitled “Is it time for a plastic bottle tax?” and its report, published in April, called on the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan to address the issue of water bottle waste in his upcoming Environment Strategy. Among other suggestions, the committee recommended that the mayor should consider backing a Deposit Return Scheme – which Thames21 supports on the strength of the Thames River Watch evidence – and also encourage community refill schemes.
Thames21’s Thamesmead project officer, Jessica Becher, who led the clean-up, said: “We knew this site needed a clean up, but we never expected to break the charity’s records for the number of bottles collected in one day at a single site – and there is still plenty of this site which we didn’t manage to clear up.”
Our work in Thamesmead is supported by Peabody, London’s biggest housing association. The company’s Executive Director for Thamesmead, John Lewis said: “The big bottle count team did a great job in retrieving so many bottles on the Thames foreshore.
“The waterways in Thamesmead are one of the town’s greatest assets. With 5km fronting the River Thamesmead, 7km of canal and six major lakes, Thamesmead is unique in its offering and we want the waterways to be areas that both wildlife and residents can enjoy.”
This site is one of 22 that will feature in the Thames River Watch Big Bottle Count on Saturday September 2, where hundreds of volunteers will be needed across London to help collect data in the capital’s biggest citizen science exercise on the Thames.
Why not sign up today? Read more on our event listings about volunteering at your most convenient local site – anywhere between Kew Bridge in the west and Erith Marshes in the east.