The sources of river litter

In 2004 the Foundation organised three river clean-ups, two on the upper River Wye and one on the Usk. In partnership with Keep Wales Tidy and volunteers groups (including canoeists), we cleared the unsightly litter that is all-too-often deposited on the banks and hangs from trees of both rivers after every flood.

Analysing the rubbish collected from the Wye we found that a high percentage (>75%) of it originated from the agricultural sector. This was mostly made up of silage wrap, feed bags and barbed wire.

The Usk clean-up was in and around Brecon town, so a higher level of “general public” litter was expected – cans, plastic bags, fast food containers etc. Even so, the agricultural waste still amounted to some 48% of the total.

The problem

Thanks to TV programmes such as The Blue Planet, we are now much more aware of the problem of plastic in our oceans. But is everyone aware of how it gets there? Unfortunately, rivers the world over are the conduit for all types of human waste, including plastics.

For the Wye and Usk, unsightly litter is not just a hindrance for those promoting tourism activities around them. There are two other fears that are equally, if not more, concerning.

The first is that if half a tonne of litter can be collected from a one mile stretch of river, how much is the total that passes through, considering that most is washed straight through the system out to sea or onto the beaches?

The second is that litter only represents the visible aspect of pollution. If there are no qualms about the unsightly mess of agricultural plastic, who is going to worry about invisible poisons such as sheep dip and other lethal chemicals which still make their way into watercourses?

Our rivers and streams are being used as conduits for all types of agricultural waste. The majority of the farming community seem well aware of the dangers and dispose of waste safely and conscientiously. It is the actions of a few, however, that continue to tarnish the reputation of the whole.

What is the Foundation doing about it?

Since the first clear-up in 2004 and with volunteers and partners, we have removed over 100 tonnes of litter from the Wye and Usk.

Read more about the Foundation’s work to keep rivers clean here.

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