A new report, ‘The River Thames: Plastic bottle pollution’, by #OneLess in partnership with Thames21 reveals that close to 68,000 plastic bottles were collected from the River Thames in just three years, of which nearly 50% of the categorised bottles were water bottles.


To better understand the extent of plastic bottle pollution in London’s River Thames, the #OneLess campaign teamed up with the charity Thames21 in April 2016 to conduct bottle surveys along the Thames. #OneLess is hosted by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) in collaboration with Forum for the Future, The International Programme on the State of the Ocean, and the Thames Estuary Partnership and is working to tackle ocean plastic pollution at source by helping breakaway from plastic bottled water and creating a city-wide refillable culture.

The report reveals a total of 67,399 single-use plastic bottles were collected and removed from the shores of the River Thames over a three-year period. Around half of all bottles collected were categorised by type – of those, 42% were water bottles. Further analysis also revealed that significantly more bottles were counted and recorded during the warmer months (spring and summer).

The results highlight the significance of London’s plastic water bottle problem and the #OneLess team plans to continue monitoring single-use plastic water bottles in the River Thames, with the hope that numbers will decrease as London shifts towards more sustainable ways of drinking water, such as using refillable bottles and drinking fountains. Further research is essential to fully understand the extent of plastic bottle pollution in the River Thames, to fill in the gaps, to establish trends over time and to better understand the movement of plastic bottles in the Thames.

“These surveys provide us with a better picture of the plastic pollution entering our river.” said ZSL’s Fiona Llewellyn, Project Manager of the #OneLess campaign. “We hope that the data will not only help to inform greater conservation interventions by policy makers to tackle the causes of ocean plastic pollution, but also to inspire Londoners to say no to bottled water and hydrate in more sustainable ways.”

Earlier this year, a report from Thames21 and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) found that 80% of litter in the Thames is single-use plastic1. While water bottles are just one of many items of single-use plastic found in the Thames, they are one of the most common2. Later this summer, Thames21 will release a report highlighting the presence of the other common offenders of plastic pollution in the Thames3.

The River Thames: Plastic bottle pollution report is released as part of a new campaign from #OneLess – Hello London; Goodbye Ocean Plastic which aims to position London as a city that no longer uses single-use plastic water bottles and inform London’s visitors about the sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic water bottles available in London. This summer, we’ve joined up with some of London’s leading museums, popular areas and landmark events to showcase all the great alternatives to bottled water we have in London and help visitors to drink water the London way too.

If you would like to become a citizen scientist with Thames21 and get involved with collecting vital data that provides a valuable insight into London’s plastic problem then visit www.thames21.org.uk/thames-river-watch


All images are copyright © Clearwater photography

  1. Thames21. 2019. Single-use items to blame for majority of Thames pollution [Online]. [Accessed February 2019]. Available from: https://www.thames21.org.uk/2019/02/the-thames-polluted-by-single-use-items.
  2. Thames21. 2017. Pollution Monitoring Results. [Online]. [Accessed January 2018]. Available from: www.thames21.org.uk/thames-river-watch/pollution-monitoring-results.
  3. Thames21. 2019, in prep. Plastic litter on the tidal Thames foreshore: Results from transect surveys 2015-2018.


11 June 2019


The #OneLess team