The results of the research show that volunteers recorded 243 macroplastic items and 62 non-plastic items. The most common type of plastic item was food-related packaging, followed by smoking-related items and plastic bags.
The unique timing of the research (directly before and directly after the first UK COVID-19 lockdown) allowed insights into whether the pandemic had affected local plastic pollution levels during that time. This research showed that there was no significant change in levels of littering during this period on average, but further analysis is needed to explore whether the situation was different between rural and urban sites. With data collection ongoing, we hope to be able to identify whether there are any longer-term trends.
In response to the volunteer findings, the Earthwatch Plastic Rivers team created an Action Plan Toolkit to help the residents involved take the next step in reducing plastic pollution in their area. It includes case studies of how communities across the UK are tackling their plastic pollution problems, as well as an Action Plan template to help communities get started with their own initiatives.
‘This project is a fantastic example of how people can directly identify and tackle plastic pollution issues in their area. Plastic is polluting our environment everywhere, not just on beaches and in the sea. By doing these surveys, the participants found hotspots where littering and fly tipping were particularly prevalent. They now have evidence to direct them to the most important areas to focus their efforts to reduce pollution, and can scientifically prove that there is a real problem in their local area – which is vital if addressing local council, other policy makers or businesses to ask them to make changes. Without SC Johnson funding, this project would not have been possible, and their support in testing the project design has enabled us to roll it out as a nationwide project.
Debbie Winton, Plastic Rivers Research Manager