Drink bottles identified as biggest plastic pollutant in lakes and rivers

Drink bottles and lids are now the most common form of plastic pollution littering lakes and rivers across Europe, new research has found.


Food wrappers, cigarette butts, sanitary items and takeaway containers complete the top five, which excludes pollution related to fishing, agriculture and industry.

Single-use plastic carrier bags were the tenth most common type found in the freshwater environment, although these make up just 1% of the total plastic pollution.

This is thought to reflect recent policies to cut down on the distribution of supermarket bags, with the 5p charge introduced in the UK resulting in an 86% reduction since 2015.

“Products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” said Jo Ruxton, CEO of the NGO Plastic Oceans UK, which co-produced the research.

“Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle, and items we flush down our toilets – this throw-away approach is having serious consequences.”

It is estimated that up to 80% of ocean plastic pollution comes from rivers, with this latest research intended to shine on the light on the importance of tackling the problem at its source.

Cotton bud sticks, cups, smoking-related packaging, and straws, stirrers and cutlery were among the other top 10 plastic items most found in European waterways.

The researchers offered practical solutions for cutting down on plastic waste, such as never throwing smoking-related packaging on the ground, and carrying reusable cups.

They also provide several recommendations for policymakers and businesses, such as introducing a deposit return schemes for plastic bottles, and selling food in reusable containers.

“It’s really encouraging that plastic pollution is now at the forefront of many people’s minds, but with so much information out there it can be hard to understand the best ways to make a difference," said Debbie Winton, research manager at Earthwatch Europe, which co-produced the research. 

"Our report provides simple, evidence-based recommendations to show people exactly what changes they can make – and the positive impact those changes will have on our waterways.” 


Image credit | iStock 

Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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