MPs call for end of ‘toxic flow’ of microplastics into UK rivers

A cross-party group of MPs have come together to call for an end to the “toxic flow” of microplastics into UK rivers and waterways.

MPs across the political divide joined campaigners at a House of Lords roundtable on 5 March, calling on the government to do more to tackle the issue.

Speaking at the event, former Green Party leader Baroness Natalie Bennett highlighted the urgent need “to protect human and environmental health”.

Bennett said “there are millions of people across the country that are behind us”.

Several studies have found that companies are causing high levels of microplastic contamination in UK rivers by discharging untreated sewage and wastewater into the water system. Up to 700,000 microfibres are released from clothes into UK waterways during the average household washing machine cycle, for example.

Campaigners have criticised ministers’ inertia, saying current bans on single-use cutlery and cosmetic microbeads are “a drop in the ocean” in the fight against the increasing global plastics threat.

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Other attendees at the event included Labour shadow climate change and Net Zero minister Kerry McCarthy MP; environmental audit committee chair Philip Dunne MP; and Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Baroness Cathy Bakewell.

The debate was hosted by Matter, an environmental company developing technological solutions to tackle Britain’s microplastics crisis.

Matter CEO Adam Root said there are an estimated 171 trillion tiny pieces of plastic floating across the world’s oceans, having an untold effect on the health of humans and the planet. Some of them have been found in human blood.

One-third (35%) of these originate from textiles, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature data.

An open letter, signed by more than 50 MPs and campaigners, has urged ministers to join European Union nations in setting out tougher restrictions.

Campaigners are hoping for stricter rules following the next General Election in the UK.

Root said: “With every single household clothes wash, up to a gram of microplastics are released into the UK’s wastewater network, ending up in our natural waterways and coastlines.

“With a general election fast approaching, politicians from all parties should listen carefully to today’s cross-party calls and act quickly to end the toxic flow of microplastics into our rivers and seas”

Bennett said: “We have an increasingly plastic-choked planet and a significant amount of that is coming from the clothing industry in the form of microplastics. This is a dual environmental health and public health risk, requiring bold action from policymakers.

“There is an urgent need to protect human and environmental health and follow the progressive policymaking of our neighbours in the European Union whose ambition we ought to match.”

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet and the Plastic Health Council, said: “Why are we even having this debate when the solutions are staring right at us? The public desperately want action on plastic, but legislation is the only way to help our environment.

“The Government claim to have acted on plastic pollution, but their current bans on single-use cutlery and cosmetic microbeads are a drop in the ocean for what is required to properly tackle Britain’s plastic waste crisis.

“We require not only a microplastic filter mandate on all new washing machines, but decisive action to end our unsustainable reliance.”

In August last year,  it was revealed the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) was set to research the effects of microplastics in household goods, and may consider policy changes as part of its commitment to tackle plastic pollution.

In November last year, the European Union voted to amend the Euro 7 car pollution rules to cover microplastics from tyres and brakes that will continue to cause pollution after the electric vehicle transition.

Climate crisisMaterials and packagingNature and the environmentNet zeroNewsPolicySocial sustainability

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