More than 27 000 single-use plastic bottles removed from the Thames in past 12 months

Environmental groups call for action following Thames21’s Big Bottle Count

Date of release: 28 October 2019

London’s largest mass census of river plastic, the annual Big Bottle Count, saw more than 100 volunteers count and remove plastic bottles from the Thames last Thursday.

A total of 1,732 plastic bottles were counted and removed at 17 sites along the Thames as part of the ongoing investigation into the impact of single-use plastic bottles on the capital’s iconic river, organised by leading waterways charity Thames21, local group the Grays Beachcombers and assisted by the #OneLess campaign.

The latest count means more than 27 000 plastic bottles have been removed from the river by Thames21 volunteers in the past year, and more than 85 000 since records began in 2016. Still water plastic bottles account for just under half of all plastic bottles found on the Thames, Thames21 data shows.

The Big Bottle Count forms part of a regular ongoing monitoring programme run by Thames21, empowering Londoners to collect crucial plastic data and to champion the health of the river Thames. 

AJ McConville, one of the coordinators of the Thames21 programme said: ‘Plastic drink bottles continue to blight the Thames, with more than 27,000 removed in the past year alone; many of which are still water bottles. It’s very frustrating to see all this plastic from water bottles in the river when we know that London tap water is safe to drink.’

Despite the huge public concern over plastic pollution, and the large amount in the Thames, there is no statutory monitoring of plastic impact on the Thames.

’Valiant Londoners help us collect this crucial plastic data which helps hold manufacturers and decision-makers accountable,’ said McConville. ‘Is society doing enough to tackle the plastic crisis? The capital’s river gives us the answer: a clear no.’

Thames21 is among many other groups calling for a ‘all in’ Deposit Return Scheme to be introduced as soon as possible. Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames21 said: ‘These findings highlight the urgent need for a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers of all sizes and materials. In Germany, which has had this system since 2003, PET bottles are now recycled at a rate of 99%. Why is it taking so long to introduce it in the UK? Our rivers simply cannot wait.’

This year the Scottish government announced plans to introduce a deposit return system for glass, plastic, steel and aluminium drinks containers of all sizes.

The Government’s recent Environment Bill, which allows for the creation of the DRS, does not specify what will be included or when it will be introduced. Environmental groups are urging the Government to continue with its ambition for all drinks containers, no matter the size or material, to be included in the system despite short-term inconvenience to existing systems.  

The Big Bottle Count took place on 17 sites along the Thames from Kew to Thamesmead where plastic waste collects


Notes for editors

About Thames21 Thames21 connects people with rivers by putting healthy rivers back at the heart of everyday life. We improve and restore rivers, educate and empower the community and campaign for positive change for the good of people and the environment. | Registered Charity No. 1103997

Media Contact

Kirsten Downer

Communications Officer at Thames21

07711 701 696

020 7248 7171