UK waterways polluted by microplastics, study finds

The government is urged to take action to prevent the crisis escalating

UK waterways are polluted by microplastics, a new study by Bangor University has discovered.

Considerable levels were discovered in the Thames, River Irwell in Greater Manchester and waterways in north Wales, while the River Tame has the highest quantity of plastic pollution in all tested areas worldwide; with more than 1,000 particles found per litre.

The worrying study also located plastics in areas as remote as Loch Lomond and the Falls of Dochart.

Growing research is showing that microplastic pollution is a global crisis. Tiny plastic particles have been found in the frozen wilderness of the Antarctic, in the stomachs of island birds and in subterranean water running beneath the US.

Microplastics in our water systems have detrimental effects on wildlife, environment and health; decreasing fertility and increasing the chance of cancer. It is thought we are ingesting micoplastics in our drinking water and through our seafood – both caught and farmed.


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Julian Kirby, a plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, who assisted in the UK study said the government needs “to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment”.

He added: “The widespread contamination of our rivers and lakes with microplastic pollution is a major concern, and people will understandably want to know what impact this could have on their health and environment.”

The UK government plans to ban the distribution of plastic straws, drinks-stirrers and cotton buds, with the measure coming into effect at some point between October 2019 and October 2020.

The European Parliament has agreed to completely ban single-use plastics by 2021 – but with 150,000 tonnes of plastic ending up in European waters every year environmentalists doubt these measures will be enough to stop the spread of microplastics.

Words: Anna Whealing