The government needs to ban plastic in wet wipes immediately in order to help tackle this sewage-based pollution ending up in the River Thames, environmental charity Thames21 has urged today.
The charity made the call as it launched its second Big Wet Wipe Count event of the year, which is taking place on the Thames foreshore near Hammersmith Bridge today.
Wet wipes enter the river through sewage pipes after they are flushed down toilets. Most contain plastic in them and because of this they can cause blockages which back up sewage that spills into the River Thames. When they end up on the foreshore, they eventually break down into microplastic and damage aquatic life and the Thames’ ecosystem.
In August, while the River Wandle was running brown with sewage pumped into it by the water companies, Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central, expressed her concern over the stinking state of Chaffinch Brook, another Thames tributary.
The Chaffinch runs through South Norwood Country Park, where the river banks are caked in wet wipes from the outflow of a local sewage treatment plant.
Jones sent her letter to Sarah Bentley, the £2million per year chief executive of Thames Water, demanding an urgent meeting about the release of the sewage, including thousands of wet wipes, into a public park and nature reserve.
Thames21 say that the government concluded its consultation on single-use plastics, including banning plastic in wet wipes, in February this year.
The results of this consultation were due to be published in the spring but have been persistently delayed.
“The River Thames is suffering from a plague of wet wipes and we would like to see the government accelerate legislation on banning plastic in wet wipes,” said Debbie Leach, the CEO at Thames21.
“We can’t afford any more delays; the government must get on with this to ensure we don’t form any more wet wipe islands and protect the Thames from this harmful pollutant for the protection of people and for wildlife.
“Elsewhere, everybody, including water companies, consumers, the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency need to accelerate work to stop these unacceptable discharges of untreated sewage and sewage litter from happening in the first place.”
The charity partners with citizen scientists, the Port of London Authority and Tideway to run its Big Wet Wipe Count event and gather crucial data on the wet wipes settling in the Thames.
Earlier this year, Thames21’s citizen scientists found almost 2,000 wet wipes in the 60m2 surveyed next to Hammersmith Bridge in Barnes. Citizen scientists were given specific areas to monitor to survey the litter within their allocated transects.
The data will be added to bathymetric survey data held by the PLA which shows the change in mound height overtime, allowing Thames21 and the PLA to assess whether the problem is getting better or worse and if the new Thames Tideway Tunnel (due to open in 2025) improves the situation.
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