Plastic Free Mersey – Plastic litter has no place in the natural environment

The Plastic Free Mersey project is a flagship collaborative approach to reduce plastic pollution in the Mersey River catchment in north-western England. We bring together environmental NGOs, plastics industry businesses, waste management organisations, academics, and communities to identify and implement solutions to plastic pollution in the Mersey catchment.

Our shared aims:

  • Achieve significant reductions in plastic litter and waste from the Mersey river and its tributaries.
  • Characterise and quantify litter on riverbanks through citizen science surveying.
  • Improve understanding of the sources of plastic waste and develop and apply practical solutions to reduce overall plastic pollution in the catchment.
  • Establish a collaborative model which can be replicated in other river systems around the world.

Issue of plastic litter in the River Mersey

The Mersey catchment was chosen for this flagship project because of its pervasive macroplastic pollution problems. Macroplastics are plastics materials greater 0.5cm in diameter. The Mersey catchment has faced pollution issues since the expansion of the Industrial Revolution, which resulted in domestic effluent and chemical pollutants contaminating surrounding waterways.

Macroplastic pollution is a central issue affecting the Mersey catchment today. This is a result of overflowing bins, fly tipping, littering, and sewer overflows introducing plastics to the River Mersey and its tributaries.

Macroplastics are a huge problem for rivers because they cause harm to aquatic wildlife through entanglement and ingestion, and break down into microplastics over time. Microplastics are a threat to human health and wildlife, and the severity of this threat is still being investigated. It is therefore vital that the persistent high levels of plastic pollution in England and beyond are addressed, so that our rivers can become cleaner and safer for people and wildlife.

Citizen science

We train local volunteers from the Mersey catchment to become citizen scientists. Our citizen science volunteers use scientifically accredited surveys to estimate the relative abundance and distribution of plastic on the riverbanks of the River Mersey and its tributaries. These methods have been refined over the course of the project in collaboration with internal and external experts.

Data collection has run from November 2021 to now. Litter is segregated into 28 different categories, with greater detail for plastic litter. Environmental factors are recorded by volunteers to help understand the origin of the litter found, such as weather conditions, river height and flow, and potential litter sources such as sewer overflows.

Citizen science surveys allows us to better understand the possible sources of plastic waste and to identify and implement solutions to reduce overall plastic pollution in the catchment.

Implementing change

The data collected by citizen science volunteers is analysed and used to inform recommendations at a national, regional, and local level.

Examples of recommendations include supporting a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for all beverage containers; proposing that water companies invest more in sewerage infrastructure; suggesting that local authorities install bins at sites where litter is present; and proposing the development of a community toolkit for volunteers to empower them to campaign for change.


Our Plastic Free Mersey StoryMap is available to look at here.

The StoryMap provides information on the project, the surveys used by citizen scientists, and up-to-date figures on the types and abundance of litter collected.

Project partners

Project coordination and delivery


We (Thames21) are an environmental charity that works with communities to improve the River Thames and its tributaries. The work that we do is vital to tackle the effects of climate change and support the wildlife and landscape of the River Thames and its tributaries. We are a leader in finding solutions to the environmental challenges faced by our rivers, whilst also delivering social impacts like improved wellbeing and greater access to blue-green spaces for people to enjoy. From Oxford and London to Essex, we improve the climate resilience of the River Thames and its tributaries through educational programmes, river restoration activities, tackling pollution and flood resilience initiatives.

The Mersey Rivers Trust works with all stakeholders and supports volunteers interested in improving the health of the River Mersey’s network of waterways, which stretch across 4,700 km2 from Liverpool to Greater Manchester.

Project funding and supporting partners


LyondellBasell has British origins and have become one of the largest producers of plastics and chemicals in the world. Their products are used by millions of people across the globe every day.

INEOS Inovyn is Europe’s leading producer of vinyls and in the top three worldwide. Their portfolio consists of an extensive range of class-leading products including General Purpose Vinyls; Specialty Vinyls; Organic Chlorine Derivatives; Chlor Alkali; Sulphur Chemicals and Salt.

Peel NRE, part of Peel L&P, reuse, repurpose and re-energise natural resources to develop and maintain vital infrastructure across the UK. It is an expert in renewable energy, district heating, waste to value, water management, materials management and electric vehicle charging.

British Plastics Federation is the UK’s leading plastic trade association, representing more than 500 member companies. They provide businesses with access to a range of services and resources designed to help them succeed in the industry. These include technical and regulatory support, access to industry research and data, and networking opportunities.

Project supporting partners


RECOUP is a charity providing expertise and guidance on the plastics recycling value chain. They are built on a network of valued members, and collaboration is central to their activities. They are committed to securing sustainable, circular and practical solutions for plastic resources both in the UK and worldwide.

Project partners that supported the pilot phase

Plastics Europe is a leading pan-European association that represents plastics manufacturers active in the European plastics industry.

SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK is part of the global SUEZ group. They are experts in the water and waste sectors and are passionate about protecting the environment.

Project endorsed by: