Plastic pollution is reaching a high tide mark on our rivers

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Want to do your bit to help clean up the environment, while trying to avert even worse effects of climate crisis? Inspired by a Croydon-based activist, LEWIS WHITE has tried, but like Greta Thunberg, has had a predictable response from those in power

Water, water everywhere: Lizzie Carr’s plastic-picking efforts have inspired Lewis White. But what are the authorities doing?

I wish all the best to Lizzie Carr, the Purley-based environmental activist as she paddleboards her way, litter-picking the waterways of England and beyond.

But it would be great if Lizzie could turn her attention to stopping litter blowing into the rivers in London, and turn the attention of Britain’s politicians, councils, water authorities and port authorities to take action to do the same on the tidal Thames.

On a number of visits to London’s South Bank and the Thames path, I saw plastic cups and bottles, and glass bottles and paper cups, being left on the top of the river wall by picnickers, many of whom could have walked a few metres to a litter bin. I also saw bins full, with rubbish left next to the bins on the paving.

I collected a lot of stuff from the top of the wall to stop it blowing into the river or on to the beach left at low tide. Looking down, there was huge amount of stuff that had been blown by the wind or had just rolled off the top of the wall.

Plastic problem: Lewis White discovered no one is responsible for keeping rubbish out of the river

The top of the wall has a simple metal rail, mounted on supports. The single rail does not stop any cans, bottles and takeaway containers from blowing underneath it. A slight breeze is enough – then they roll or blow into the water or onto the beach.

I realised that the only way of stopping most litter is for a better-designed railing, perhaps with a mesh infill, to be installed along the top of the floodwall.

I contacted Thames 21, Bankside Open Spaces Trust and the Port of London Authority and asked them if a better railing could be designed and funded to stop all this tourist-generated rubbish being blown in the beautiful Thames.

Who was responsible for stopping the pollution?

I asked, knowing the answer: no one.

I didn’t bother to try to call the cleansing authorities of Lambeth and Southwark councils, as I knew their answer would be along the lines of, “Our cleaning staff pick up the litter and take it away, and we have fewer staff and less money than we did 10 years ago.”

Waste efforts: clean-ups of beaches by Thames21 are futile if more is not done to stop rubbish getting into the river

I did put the idea in as an idea when the London Mayor called for ideas to improve the environment.


Zilch. Nada. Nuffink.

My proposal was not even acknowledged. Yet it is entirely feasible, and would not be expensive.

Perhaps I need to dress up as Greta Thunberg and go walkabout with a few people dressed up as cans and bottles, to draw attention to the need for some joined-up thinking in London, along the Thames, to stop rubbish being blown into the river from wall.

More money for the councils, to allow them to employ more cleaning staff, to empty the bins before they overflow, and for more bins, is also necessary.

We get consultations, but words are cheap. The Romans had “Bread and Circuses” to keep the masses happy and in their place. We have “Ask London” websites and council apps.

All just more blah blah blah.

Thanks for that, Greta.

Read more: Air pollution is a real killer, but council has caved in to cars
Read more: From the Wandle to the Hudson, Carr campaigns on pollution
Read more: Cut the mowing: how to transform your garden for wildlife

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3 Responses to Plastic pollution is reaching a high tide mark on our rivers

  1. M Pearson says:

    Hello, Bankside Open Spaces Trust don’t own any part of the Thames-side path. They manage parks and gardens nearby but not next to the river at all. They are also a small charity with little power over public infrastructure – I’m not sure why they’ve been included here as if they don’t care about the environment! They have bins on each site they own and volunteers in regularly litter picking.

    • It seems that Bankside Open Spaces Trust have been included here because, when members of the public have written to state their concern over the littering issue, the Bankside Open Spaces Trust didn’t bother to reply.

  2. “I realised that the only way of stopping most litter is for a better-designed railing, perhaps with a mesh infill, to be installed along the top of the floodwall.”

    Stopping “litter” at source would be a better way.

    The shift in the late 1960s and early 1970s from deposit glass bottles to “disposable” cans and plastic bottles cut costs for the likes of Coca Cola, and put up the financial and environmental costs for everyone else. We have to pay for the clean up bills on our streets, riversides and beaches.

    Take a look at the rubbish down any street, and you’ll see most of it is plastered with corporate logos, from KFC to McDonalds. The latter refuse to put the car registration numbers of customers at their “drive thru restaurants” on the packaging which will shortly be dumped nearby.

    The government that dragged its heels over putting a minimum charge on plastic carrier bags in England is now consulting on doing something about single-use plastics. Even then their plans have been criticised by environmentalists for being too little too late.

    Boris Johnson’s cabinet can move at lightning speed when it comes to criminalising peaceful protest and robbing pensioners. It’s all a question of priorities.

    If you do want to let his civil servants in DEFRA know what you think about plastic waste, is the link to the consultation portal that opened on Saturday and closes on 12 February.

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