Trialling ways to reduce litter ending up in our rivers and waterways

The River Thames is one of the world’s most iconic rivers. It's the cultural, financial and historical artery of London, but the amount of litter entering the river is on the rise and it’s travelling from all parts of the city. 7 in 10 Londoners think the Thames is too polluted for fish to survive, but actually it’s home to 125 species of fish, as well as other wildlife such as seals, dolphins and even sea horses! For those who prefer pound signs to porpoises, the Thames is worth £40 billion to the UK economy and provides 140,000 jobs.

But 300 tonnes of rubbish is cleared from the Thames each year. That’s equivalent to 43 bottlenose whales (the type found in the Thames in 2006)…and that’s not to mention what sinks to the riverbed or what gets washed out to sea.

How does all the litter get in the Thames?

Some litter gets dropped directly into the river, but much of it comes from land. It’s not all deliberate littering, it might be squeezing litter into overflowing bins, leaving litter next to a bin, placing cups or bottles on ledges, or putting cigarette butts down drains. And that's a big problem, because our waterways are all connected and rivers lead into oceans. In fact, 80% of ocean plastics come from land and rivers, which is then often eaten by birds, fish and other marine species.

Small pieces of litter are less likely to make it into a bin but can have devastating effects on the environment. E.g. napkins, receipts, travel tickets, food wrappers, cups, lids, cigarette butts. 74% of all litter picked from the Thames is food and drink related.

In 2017 Hubbub launched 'For Fish’s Sake (#FFSLDN)' to explore new ways of tackling riverside littering, and by using bright messaging and playful interventions we managed to reduce riverside litter by 32% in the London Bridge area. As well as the media launch, we trialled a series of interventions including the Cabinet of Curiosities, an animation highlighting the problem, a community gallery showcasing locals who rely on the Thames for their livelihoods, floor vinyls and Ballot Bins. 

After the success in a central, touristy area, we were interested to see if similar approaches could work in a more residential area. So, in 2018 #FFSLDN made it's way upstream to Putney! The campaign featured playful interventions such as the faux ‘Fishmonger’ displaying freshly caught litter, voting bins, a community gallery and bright messaging on railings and lampposts.

The difference made

#FFSLDN at London Bridge ran from May-September 2017:

  • 45 pieces of coverage with opportunities to see/hear of 121 Million. #FFSLDN tweets had a reach of 8.1M.
  • 32% reduction in riverside in the London Bridge area.

Read the full impact report here

#FFSLDN in Putney ran from August-November 2018:

  • Media opportunities to see/hear of 9.1M.
  • More than 400 people directly engaged through on-street events including the faux fishmonger.

Read the full impact report here


How can you get involved?

When you're out and about, remember these 3 simple tips:

  • Always use the bin - not the gutter, river or pavement  
  • If you see some litter and you’re near a bin – pick it up! 
  • If the bin is full, find another one or take your litter home.

We also used our learnings from For Fish's Sake to create a scalable and replicable campaign for tackling litter in rivers all across the UK, called 'Treasure Your River'. Check it out below and get involved. 

Treasure Your River

#FFSLDN 2017 was led by Hubbub, supported by the Port of London Authority and backed by a unique coalition of organisations including British Plastics Federation, INCPEN, Natural Hydration Council, St Katharine Docks and Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

#FFSLDN 2018 was led by Hubbub, supported by the Port of London Authority and brought to Putney in partnership with Wandsworth Council and Positively Putney BID.