Plastic Free Mersey

The Plastic Free Mersey project is a flagship collaborative approach created to tackle plastic pollution in the Mersey River catchment in north-western England. It brings together businesses in the plastics supply chain with others who are interested in protecting rivers, ranging from communities and NGOs to academics. We are training citizen science volunteers in the Manchester and Liverpool region; please visit this page to choose your sessions and sign-up (https://www.thames21.org.uk/events/). 

Our goals

  1. Together with the community, cleaning the river and nearby blue-green space of plastic waste
  2. Deepening our understanding of the causes and impacts of plastic pollution
  3. Surveying the plastic waste to understand the types and quantities of plastic in the river

About the River Mersey

Like many rivers, the Mersey faces the widespread problem of littering and pollution, including from various types of plastics.

Plastics have no place in the environment and can damage the health of aquatic ecosystems. Ultimately, its presence can have a negative impact not only on wildlife but also cause rivers to become a less attractive place for recreation. Communities are increasingly aware and concerned about the issue of waste, much of it plastic, in their open spaces.

River litter hotspot

Many stakeholders need to be involved in efforts to better understand the complex dynamics, mechanisms, and pathways of plastic pollution, so as to prevent plastics from reaching waterways.

Plastics pollution affects all rivers. The River Mersey has been recently identified as a microplastic litter hotspot in the UK (Hurley et al., 2018), along with all UK river channels. Furthermore, in 2019, a Greenpeace and University of Exeter report identified the River Mersey as a microplastic litter hotspot in the UK. Local groups on the catchment, from plastic packaging manufacturers to NGOs, academics and the community, all agree that plastic waste has no place in the environment. This makes the River Mersey catchment the ideal region to develop a framework for a new, collaborative and constructive approach to tackling the issue.

The Plastic Free Mersey project brings together:

  • The Mersey Rivers Trust, which hosts three river catchment partnerships and works with all stakeholders interested in improving the health of the River Mersey’s 4,700 km2 network of waterways, stretching from Liverpool to Greater Manchester.
  • LyondellBasell, a global company with British roots and offices, one of the world’s largest producers of plastics and chemicals, used in products that are used by millions of people around the world, every day.
  • INOVYN, part of INEOS, is Europe’s leading producer of vinyls and in the top three worldwide.  INOVYN’s 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.
  • SUEZ – SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK is part of the global SUEZ group, an expert in the water and waste sectors with a passion for the environment.
  • Academics with specialist expertise on plastic pollution in the UK.
  • Environmental charity Thames21 which has extensive experience in quantifying the amounts and types of litter found in the River Thames.  It does this by training and supporting volunteers – citizen scientists – to carry out surveys for its award-winning Thames River Watch project.
  • British Plastics Federation, the UK’s leading plastic trade association.
  • PlasticsEurope, leading pan-European association that represents plastics manufacturers active in the European plastics industry.

Collective responsibility

The organisations collaborating in the Plastic Free Mersey project all believe that all aspects of society – the public, Government and industry – each have a huge role to play on sustainability issues. In this case it is about better understanding the plastic pollution problem and improving people’s behaviours at all levels, to enhance the health of our rivers.

The environmental charities involved work with many groups to protect, restore and improve rivers to build long-term climate resilience and biodiversity. They work constructively with organisations that are actively trying to reduce their environmental impact through specific actions and plans.

For example, LyondellBasell and INOVYN are active participants in an international initiative called Operation Clean Sweep®.  OCS is designed to prevent the release of plastic granules (pellets, flakes and powders) into the environment during handling by the various parties in the plastics value chain. Companies signing up to OCS commit to improving worksites to prevent and address spills and to create and publish internal procedures to achieve no industrial plastic material loss, among other factors. This is administered by the British Plastics Federation in the UK and Plastics Europe on the continent.

Through engaging volunteers, new and established, the project will train citizen scientists to survey the plastic waste. These trained volunteers will use methods established by Thames21’s Thames River Watch project and the charity’s nationally accredited training scheme. This will provide robust data to measure the extent of plastic pollution, identify the sources of plastic waste, and characterise the ways in which litter reaches the river. Such new knowledge can enable the collaborating organisations to address the issue at source by working with private and public sector stakeholders, individuals, and communities.

Informing improvements

Working collaboratively with manufacturers, this will inform decision-making at industry level about the importance of reducing the waste, in line with circular economy principles. For example, by reusing recycled and recyclable plastics, plastic products can be produced without using virgin materials derived from petrochemicals.

Employees within the plastics manufacturers will experience citizen science opportunities on the river catchment, engaging with the community and promoting culture change on plastic littering.  What they learn will allow the plastics companies to identify appropriate science-based interventions at the right point in the chain, to eliminate plastic waste, in collaboration with Thames21, the British Plastics Federation, PlasticsEurope and the Mersey Rivers Trust.

The project will create an effective framework for industry and communities to work together, that can be used as a blueprint for similar work in other river catchments to bring about significant, measurable, and sustainable impacts towards freeing our rivers of all plastics.

For more information and to get involved, contact our Plastic Free Rivers Project Coordinator Luca Marazzi.