Green Party peer Jenny Jones said the new research should spur ministers into action.
“This research should come as a wake-up call to the government, who for so long have allowed water companies to get away with criminal acts against nature without appropriate sanction,” Jones said.
Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.Professor Jamie Woodward, who led the research, told The Big Issue he had identified “extraordinarily high” concentrations of microplastics, something which could only be down to the behaviour of water companies and not disposing of waste at the correct time.“We basically found that the only way high concentrations of microplastics could accumulate on river channel beds on the bottom of the channels is if wastewater is getting into the rivers during low flows, when the rivers are flowing to sluggishly to wash and disperse those microplastics downstream,” Woodward said. “What that means is where you’ve got very high concentrations of microplastics on the riverbed, it is a very clear indication of poor wastewater management and that wastewater has been put into rivers at times when it’s inappropriate. “We have one site near the River Tame near Manchester, for example, which is currently, as we understand it, the most contaminated site in the world.“We’ve established a very clear link between the wastewater practices and microplastic contamination.” Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than 5mm which have broken off larger pieces of plastic or are used in cosmetic and personal care products. Experts have said they pose a risk to human health as they can enter the human body through bottled water, certain foods and even dust in the air. But they also have a major impact on the natural world. The researchers from Manchester said microplastics can cause ecosystem damage as the quality of the river bed is essential for many creatures which live, feed and reproduce there.
“When they get into the environment, items of plastic packaging like bottles, bags and films, break down over time into smaller pieces. Eventually the pieces degrade into tiny particles called microplastics,” explained Nina Schrank, senior campaigner at Greenpeace.
“We know that many species in UK rivers have been swallowing microplastics, otters, lots of species of fish and even crabs in the Thames. British birds called dippers have been ingesting them and feeding them to their young.
“Nature has been sounding the alarm on plastic pollution for years. The government, supermarkets and brands must take drastic action to reduce the amount of plastic we’re producing and stop the flow of yet more plastics to our rivers and seas.”