Friday, 7 August 2020

Microplastics in the Thames

Some twenty-odd years ago, in my most intense Green-activist phase, I published a piece in the William Morris Society Newsletter (which back then was a much less glossy effort than it is today) about levels of radioactivity in the river Thames.  In that article I drew on research from a well-known Green Party scientist of the time, Christopher Busby, which made a chilling case about radioactive pollution in the river from atomic research facilities along its banks: Aldermarston, Harwell, Amersham. 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose; for today it is the issue of microplastic pollution in the Thames which imposes itself upon us.  94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in some of its stretches, a figure which is a good deal higher than for such European equivalents as the Danube or the Rhine.  These include glitter, microbeads from cosmetics, and plastic fragments broken down from larger items, often food packaging.  Bits of plastic are found in the stomachs of crabs living in the Thames, including fibres or microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.  Careless disposal of Covid-related plastic, such as masks and gloves, may now make matters still worse. 

We know how much the river Thames mattered to Morris himself: salmon have returned to it at the beginning of News from Nowhere, and it contributes both a narrative thread and some of the most idyllic scenes to that utopia.  So if the William Morris Society wants to do some active campaigning, which given its status as a charity cannot be narrowly party-political, the environmental condition of the river which flows right outside the front door of its headquarters at Kelmscott House will always be a good starting point.


1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

I've drawn heavily in my second paragraph on this BBC report on Royal Holloway scientific research into Thames pollution: It also flags up the fact that wet wipes flushed down lavatories are accumulating in sizeable numbers on the shoreline.