Bottles, Food Packaging & Cigarette Butts Major Plastic Waste Pollutants

Report Identifies Top 10 Plastic Pollutants in Europe’s Rivers & Lakes

The top 10 types of consumer plastics polluting European freshwater lakes and rivers have been identified in a new report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK.


The top 10 types of consumer plastics polluting European freshwater lakes and rivers have been identified in a new report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK.

Published today, the Plastic Rivers report analyses data from nine studies of freshwater sources across the UK and Europe. It ranked types of macroplastic by prevalence, focusing on consumer items and excluding items relating to fishing, agriculture and industry. Plastic bottles are the biggest contributor to freshwater plastic pollution, followed by food wrappers and cigarette butts.

The top 10 plastic pollutants in rivers and lakes are:

  1. Plastic bottles and lids
  2. Food wrappers (crisp packets and sweet wrappers)
  3. Cigarette butts
  4. Sanitary items (nappies, sanitary towels, tampons and wet wipes)
  5. Plastic or polystyrene takeaway containers
  6. Cotton bud sticks
  7. Plastic or polystyrene cups
  8. Smoking-related packaging
  9. Plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery
  10. Plastic bags

The report’s authors explained that to date much of the plastics focus has been on the shocking impact pollution is having on ocean species, but up to 80% of the plastic in our seas actually comes from rivers.

Understanding the situation in freshwater environments is an essential but often overlooked factor in stemming the tide of plastic reaching our oceans.

Debbie Winton, Research Manager and author of the report, said: “It’s really encouraging that plastic pollution is now at the forefront of many people’s minds, but with so much information out there it can be hard to understand the best ways to make a difference.

“Our report provides simple, evidence-based recommendations to show people exactly what changes they can make – and the positive impact those changes will have on our waterways.”

Jo Ruxton, CEO of Plastic Oceans UK,addec: "The Plastic Rivers report shows that the products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic. Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down our toilets. This throw-away approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.

“As the first plastic pollution NGO in the UK, we are always looking to find clear evidence and are pleased to work closely with our partner, Earthwatch. We see this report as an important and engaging contribution to the debate, to inform everyone and show how easily we can change our lifestyle and behaviours to prevent this insidious pollution."

The report aims to help consumers make a real difference by providing practical alternative options. It is accompanied by a free downloadable guide to the top pollutants and the best ways to reduce their prevalence, alongside a sheet for households to pledge the changes they’re going to make.

For businesses and policy makers the report provides suggestions for how to make it easier for consumers to make more sustainable choices.

Debbie Winton continues: “If implemented quickly, our recommendations have the potential to significantly reduce plastic pollution in the UK well in advance of any impact that will be achieved from policy changes, and to inform the policies themselves.”

The report can be downloaded HERE

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