Environment

Angry about raw sewage being dumped into rivers and the sea? Sign this petition with actual s**t

“The Dirty Protest” petition invites people to “sign their names with sh*t” to protect the sea from sewage pollution.

sewage

Sewage pollution blights some of the UK's most idyllic spots. Image: Nick Jones, Cove Cottages

Ordinarily, dropping sewage on a politician’s desk would get you arrested. But you now have the chance to do so for a good cause.

The Dirty Protest petition – launched Thursday (22 February) by an alliance of ocean advocacy charities – invites people to “sign their names with shit” to protect the sea from sewage pollution.

When the petition reaches a million signatures, it will be printed using a specially designed ink that features 50% sewage from drain pipes. Then, it will be delivered to the European Parliament.

Pernille Weiss, member of the European Parliament and chairwoman of the Water Group, was the first person to sign.

“I signed my name in shit to stop untreated sewage from being pumped into our ocean,” she said.  “I need all of you to sign, so we can show every politician that this problem is too big and too important to be ignored.”

How big of a problem is sewage pollution?

Some 80% of the world’s sewage is dumped untreated into our oceans. It suffocates the ecosystem and causes serious illness to swimmers who come into contact with it.

The ecological impact is devastating: 55% of coral reefs and 88% of seagrass are exposed to wastewater pollution, making them more vulnerable to climate change.

The open letter cites these facts, calling on lawmakers to “increase investments in technology, new filtering systems, new infrastructure” to prevent the issue.

“Bring legislation and codes into the present – and make sure the bill is not just passed on to private individuals like myself,” it adds.  

The issue will be close to home for UK signatories. Thousands of Brits became ill after swimming in polluted water last year, after water firms pumped raw sewage into rivers and the sea more than 300,000 times.

Faced with the pressure of a growing population, water companies are allowed to release sewage overflow after heavy rains.

But companies have also been known for ‘dry spills’ – illegal discharges that occur when no heavy rain has fallen. In 2021, Southern Water was fined a record £90m for disallowed discharges.

As public anger mounts, both major parties have announced a slew of commitments to punish the water sector. Last month, Labour’s shadow environment secretary Steve Reed called for water bosses who preside over illegal raw sewage dumps to face criminal sanctions.

But the problem will require a far more broad-reaching solution, activists have urged.

“What we really want to hear from Labour is a commitment that they will fund and re-empower the regulatory bodies that police the industry as a whole, and not just focus on individuals,” Charles Watson, founder and chair of River Action UK told the Big Issue at the time. “Ultimately, it’s going to be about the money.”

In the 10 years to 2022, the Conservatives slashed funding for the Environmental Agency – one of the bodies in charge of regulating the water industry – by 56%.

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