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Plastic drinks bottles are now the biggest plastic threat for our waterways

Plastic makes up 71 per cent of litter in European freshwater environments

Katie O'Malley
Monday 08 April 2019 10:22 BST
This all-women team are tackling plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean

Drinks bottles are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways, it has been revealed.

According to the Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK, plastic bottles make up 14 per cent of all identifiable plastic litter items found in European freshwater environments.

Meanwhile, food wrappers (which includes crisp packets, chocolate bars, and sweet wrappers) account for 12 per cent of visible items of rubbish, with cigarette butts and food takeaway containers accounting for nine and six per cent, respectively.

“The Plastic Rivers report shows that the products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” said Jo Ruxton, chief executive of Plastic Oceans UK.

“Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down toilets. This throwaway approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.”

The analysis involved authors examining nine studies of pollution in freshwater sources across the UK and Europe and ranking types of macroplastics – relatively large particles of plastic found especially in the marine environment – by their prevalence.

The average percentage of litter that was plastic was 71 per cent and out of the 193,238 littered items counted, 37.5 per cent were consumer-related plastic items frequently encountered in daily life.

In addition to plastic bottles, cups and sanitary items (including wet wipes, nappies and tampons), were also found to be a prevalent source of litter.

In the UK, the average person uses 150 plastic water bottles a year of which 6.9 per cent are littered.

Meanwhile, 13.2 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used in England each year with 10 per cent being flushed down the toilet.

In addition to identifying the top 10 plastic pollutants in rivers and lakes, the report also offers advice on the best ways to reduce their prevalence.

Actions consumers are advised to take include not flushing sanitary items, using reusable cutlery when getting takeaway food or for stirring drinks, and using cotton buds with paper sticks.

In October 2018, the European Parliament voted for an extensive ban on single-use plastics to stop pollution entering the world’s oceans.

Products including plastic plates, cutlery, straws and cotton buds will all be eradicated from 2021 under the plans.

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