Article - The River Blog

How to… keep our rivers litter-free

Author: Jeanette Dyson
Categories: Plastic pollution, Volunteers

Healthy, well-cared for rivers provide food, shelter and a breeding ground for invertebrates, fish and mammals. In turn, they provide food for larger animals, which is all vital for a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

In our series of ‘How to…’ blogs, we’ll be giving you tips, advice and ideas about how you can help to play your part in keeping our rivers and streams, clean and healthy.

How to help our rivers by litter picking and river clean-ups

You’ve probably seen the horrendous pictures showing the increasing amount of plastic waste in our oceans. What you might not know is that 80% of the plastic waste in our oceans comes from the land, with rivers responsible for transporting rubbish to our oceans.

What that means is there’s an awful lot of rubbish and plastic waste in our local rivers. During heavy rain, our rivers flow faster, become deeper and more turbulent. When the water finally recedes again, we’re often left with riverbanks decorated in plastic waste and wet wipes. This is the litter that’s polluting our waterways and harming wildlife.

We can all play our part in reducing the amount of litter in our rivers, by acting more responsibly.

How to reduce litter in our rivers

1.      Use less plastic:

When rubbish is transported to landfill, it can easily be jolted out of the trucks or blown away. Often this litter finds its way into our river systems. By using less plastic in the first place or recycling more, we reduce the amount sent to landfill and therefore the amount that is at risk of being blown away.

2.      Avoid using open-topped public bins:

When you’re out and about take your litter home and dispose of it in a lidded bin. It might be convenient to use litter bins while you’re out and about and it’s definitely preferable to throwing litter on the floor. But public bins, especially those close to popular beauty spots, quickly fill up. Rubbish – especially light-weight plastic – can easily be blown out of the bin and into nearby rivers.

3.      Only put paper, pee and poo down the loo!

Flushing wipes (supposedly flushable wipes still contain plastic, which doesn’t break down) and other rubbish, or pouring fats and oils down the sink, cause sewage pipes to block. During heavy rain, these blocked drains are designed to overflow into our rivers. If they didn’t we’d find sewage backing up in our homes and businesses. This results in sewage – with all the other nasties people flush away – entering and polluting our river systems.

How to remove litter from our rivers and environment

1.      Join a litter picking group

Once the litter is on our streets, fields and in our rivers, the only way to get rid of it is to pick it up! To help, join a local community group that hosts litter picking events. They usually provide equipment and gloves to keep you safe. It’s amazing the amount of rubbish that these organized events collect.

2.      Collect 5 pieces of rubbish every time you go for a walk

Next time you go for a walk, take a litter picker or, if you don’t have one, pair of old gardening gloves and a carrier bag (preferably one you’re re-using). Try to pick up 5 pieces of rubbish you find on the floor. Just think, if 100 people did this every day for a year, we’d collect more than 180,000 pieces of litter!

IMPORTANT: NEVER pick up needles, syringes or other dangerous items – even if you’re using gloves or a litter picker. Instead make a note of the location and inform your local council.

3.      Join our river clean-ups

At River Holme Connections we often host river clean-up events. These involve using waders to collect litter from rivers or hard to access riverbanks. We always provide safety equipment, carry out risk assessments and make sure people are working together.

IMPORTANT: NEVER enter a river alone to collect rubbish. Even shallow rivers can have slippery stones and unseen debris which you could get caught in. There’s also the danger of river levels and speed of flow rapidly increasing as water is released from upstream dams or from heavy rainfall upstream.

As you can see from the suggestions above, if we all make little changes we can make a big difference to the health of our local rivers.

It’s amazing what you find in the river!


Our How to… series of blogs is part or our Holme Improvements, year long project, which is funded by an award from Postcode Local Trust, a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Our Holme Improvement project is intended to improve the River Holme catchment.

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