What lies beneath.

Thames litter pick 1 pickersYesterday I joined other volunteers on the shore of the Thames by the RSPB Cliffe Pools reserve for a litter pick run by MSEP’s Guardians of The Deep.Project Officer and David Saunders a volunteer with the RSPB. When I worked for the RSPB I ran these litter picks myself so I am no stranger to picking up other people’s rubbish and feeling angered about it but, still I was shocked. It was a crystalline day, the Thames a looking glass, seals were hauled out on the far shore and starlings clattered in the scrub sprouting from the remains of the old explosive works. It was too beautiful to be faced with ugliness.

As I climbed over the sea wall I was greeted by hundreds and hundreds of plastic bottles, caught in eddies and carried to this remote bay on the tide. We all know it’s there. This plastic, floating around our waterways and despoiling the planet but to be suddenly faced with it is a different matter.

Thames litter pick 2 bottles

bottles litter the shore of the Thames

Further up river, crowds of people searched for the Beluga Whale which has been fishing in the Thames.  Some of these beluga people have become devotees, they are sleeping rough in parks, they prowl the river day and night for a glimpse. Humans are so kind to one animal out of place that they will cancel their firework parties for it and not appear to mind. We ARE a kind species. I will not be swayed from this, so how then can we, this kind species, be the same species that throws plastic bottles into the river?

it was all there, the detritus of human existence, toothbrushes, shampoos, flip flops, children’s toys. The source of this has to be river traffic on the Thames, Thrown overboard by sailors on container ships or dropped from private boats.

The volunteers worked hard picking this up, no matter how disgusting, they bagged it and ferried it away. Although our litter is never quite away. Much of this plastic cannot be recycled as it is considered contaminated, therefore it is buried or burnt. Neither option is desirable.

One solution is of course stopping it at source. Reversing our dependence on plastic, going back to paper and wood and things that will not be sitting on a beach in a hundred years time. Why are cotton buds now made of plastic? I remember a time when it wasn’t so. We will never be entirely free of plastic of course, not now, it is a wonder drug and we are all addicted but does it have to be like this? If it can be made to disintegrate then lets make it that way, Now, today.

Thames litter pick 2 micro plastic

micro plastic on the shore of the Thames

Worse even than the plastic bottles was the micro plastic, impossible to sift the tiny fragments from the natural flotsam and jetsam  of the shoreline. Among this debris were millions of nurdles, the basic component which our goods are made from.  These had been washed out of a factory from God knows where. This is the stuff that is being swallowed by fish, which in turn is being swallowed by the beluga which eventually ends up in our own bodies. They lay all over the beach tiny blue and white droplets. I longed for a giant Dyson Vacuum to suck it all up. Come on Mr Dyson, invent it please.

I will not despair, I will not. Among the litter pickers was Tyler, 14 years old. He had more enthusiasm for litter picking than anyone else. He invented a wooden shovel to scoop up the micro beads and bag them. He regaled me with plastic facts. He had downloaded a video of a storm petral with plastic in it’s gut, he told me and shows it to his friends at school.

He is hope and I will be hopeful, still.

Guardians of the Deep will be running litter picks throughout the autumn and winter. Find out more here.



2 thoughts on “What lies beneath.

  1. Your point about waste dumps is interesting. There is one just upstream. Lots of the waste on the beach were sanitary items which are clearly not being filtered out by sewage companies. These business’s need tighter regulations but I do think some of it has to be coming from container ships. The beach is very near the Thames Gateway super port and maybe this mega industry should take more responsibility for cleaning up the Thames. However your article rightly suggests that all of us as individuals could help by changing our shopping habits and keeping up the pressure on big business to use less plastic packaging.

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