The River Thames is on the mend after decades of toxic overflow, neglect and mismanagement. Birdlife and marine life are coming back to the Thames, with regular sightings of seals and even dolphins. However, the sustainability of the Thames is under threat from growing plastic pollution entering the river and threatening birdlife and contaminating marine life.
A sizeable chunk of the many tonnes of single-use plastic waste hauled out of the Thames each year is made up of plastic cups. The volume of cups collected by clean-up initiatives is the tip of the iceberg of the true number as these flimsy cups quickly break into small pieces in the strong tidal flow.
During spring and summer, when riverside pubs, events and boat cruises are at their busiest, numbers skyrocket even further. Once discarded, swept or blown into the water the flimsy cups break down quickly into smaller strips of plastic, contributing to the growing flow of plastic waste coughed up on to the shores of the Thames at high tide, or swept out to sea.
Plastic pollution has reached a crisis point and the global plastic pollution crisis is now daily headline news. Plastic particles have been identified in seafood and bottled water, sea salt is contaminated by micro-plastics and plastic waste has been found in the remotest reaches of the Arctic. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish.*
*Ellen McArthur Foundation’s The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics (2015)
- 65% of the rubbish cleaned up from the Thames is food and drink packaging (statistics recorded by Thames21)
- Single-use plastic cups are rarely recycled in the UK! The majority end in landfill or are incinerated because they are not a desirable type of plastic for recycling purposes.
- The fast flowing tidal Thames breaks plastic items down into smaller pieces and washes out to sea as long-term plastic debris.
- Broken down plastic debris becomes ‘micro-plastics’ – small particles and pellets that take centuries to biodegrade and pass up the food chain as plastic particles and ingested by fish and birdlife.
- Plastic contains toxic chemicals damaging to human health and marine and birdlife, and is now identified as re-entering the human food chain through fish and shellfish.
There is simply too much plastic ending up ‘in the drink.’ Bars are part of this problem, but they can also be part of the solution. How? By swapping out single-use plastic cups for glass or, where not feasible, with durable reusable stainless steel or hard plastic cups.
We cheer the many pubs already acknowledging the plastic problem and taking a stand by ditching plastic straws. This proactive step has got the thumbs up from London pub-goers.
Taking a further step towards removing single-use plastic cups is a further step in the right direction towards a more sustainable future for our river, and our oceans.