The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has criticised a study undertaken by the University of London and the Natural History Museum, which claimed plastic waste dumped into the Thames introduces toxic chemicals into the food chains of river ecosystems and the North Sea.
Scientists from the Museum and Royal Holloway, University of London, warned of an unseen stream of plastic flowing along the riverbed of the upper Thames Estuary that threatens aquatic wildlife, as part of its plastic awareness weekend.
More than 8,000 pieces of plastic were pulled up from the riverbed, only “partly illustrating the extent of the problem since larger items such as plastic bags escaped the small nets,” according to the Natural History Museum.
Philip Law, BPF – “Chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics are so heavily regulated and controlled by the REACH food contact legislation that the toxic risk to the Thames and ultimately to consumers from a plastics product being irresponsibly discarded is infinitesimally tiny, if indeed it exists at all”
It says more than a fifth of the submerged river of litter is made up of sanitary products, the rest from cigarette packets, food wrappers and cups, with most Londoners not even aware it’s there.
The Thames tide breaks up the plastic rubbish into smaller and smaller fragments, which are then eaten by birds, fish and smaller animals, such as crabs.
According to the Museum, this then introduces toxic chemicals into the food chains of river ecosystems and the North Sea, into which the Thames flows.
The scientists are calling for a change to policy and consumer behaviour as the danger of litter hidden below the surface of the Thames becomes more apparent.
Marine biologist Dr Dave Morritt at Royal Holloway said, “This underwater litter must be taken into account when estimating the amount of pollution entering our rivers and seas, not just those items that we can see at the surface and washed up on shore.”
Little Toxic Risk
The BPF, however, has argued that the use of chemicals in plastic manufacturing is so regulated and controlled that the toxic risk to the Thames is “infinitesimally tiny”.
“Chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics are so heavily regulated and controlled by the REACH food contact legislation that the toxic risk to the Thames and ultimately to consumers from a plastics product being irresponsibly discarded is infinitesimally tiny, if indeed it exists at all,” said Philip Law, the BPF’s director general designate.
“If used products are turning up in these quantities in the Thames then this just underlines the need for stiffer penalties applied for littering, dumping and fly-tipping.
“London suffers from the absence of litterbins in its major thoroughfares due to past terrorist actions.
“If the country is truly serious about dealing decisively with littering and associated dumping then the government should apply more resources to public education programmes.”