02:32PM, Wednesday 22 July 2020
The head of a Maidenhead nature group has urged people to be careful with their waste after research revealed the tidal River Thames is plagued with ‘high quantities’ of microplastics.
A report published by Royal Holloway University of London this week shined a light on how microplastics are impacting on the health of the river.
The university said that although pollution from trace metals is declining, plastic contamination is a ‘major issue’.
Research found how two resident species of crab, notably the shore crab and Chinese mitten crab, are ingesting microplastics, with about 95 per cent of mitten crabs found to have tangled plastic in their stomachs.
Other studies revealed that 93.5 per cent of microplastics in the water column were most likely formed from the fragmentation of larger plastic items.
Further research saw how flushable and non-flushable wet wipes are a culprit for plastic pollution and have a negative impact on the Asian clam.
WildMaidenhead chairman Fiona Hewer was not sure whether crabs were present in the Maidenhead stretch of the Thames, but pointed out it is home to creatures including the eel and brown trout, and urged people to take responsibility for their litter.
“The River Thames is a crucial part of our life here, it is such a critical blue corridor for wildlife,” she said.
“We are very concerned about plastic pollution, and people are using disposable plastic for COVID-19 management.
“I think there are lots of different things we can do. The most important is to make the manufacturers responsible for their own waste.
“We all need to be better educated about the harm plastic pollution does, and as the chair of WildMaidenhead, my concern is the harm to wildlife.
“As plastic breaks down it forms these microplastics that get inside animal’s systems.
“I would say to people, take responsibility for your own litter, and take it home.”
Fiona mentioned Loopstore UK as a good method of preventing plastic pollution. The company is working with supermarket Tesco to deliver products in zero-waste packaging that is picked up, cleaned and used again.
“This is a positive step to see the big brands and a shop like Tesco realising that they need to do something,” Fiona added.
On average, Thames Water spends £18million every year clearing 75,000 blockages from its sewers.
A spokesman said: “We understand that during these difficult times many people are using wet wipes and washing their hands a lot more as recommended.
“However, unflushable items such as wipes, nappies and disposable masks and gloves don’t break down in sewers and can combine with fats and oils to create fatbergs – disgusting blockages which can cause sewage to spill out in to homes, businesses and the environment.”