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Canal towpath with Ricoh Arena in the distance

Plastic Litter Surveying on Coventry Canal


Canals and Rivers Trust (CRT)




Canals and Rivers Trust


Steve Coupe, Marco Van De Wiel, Alan Newman, Ramón González-Méndez


December 2018 - February 2019

Project Objectives

A survey of the Coventry canal to determine the extent and types of plastic pollution. This survey started at the canal basin in the city centre and progressed, over 3 days, to the edge of the city at Sutton stop, marking the end of the survey with the transition from urban to rural space. The length of canal surveyed was 8.4 kilometres and both the canal water and the towpath were assessed. Chief types of plastic represented were food wrappers and drinks bottles, with more than 70% of the items recorded being these materials; the amount of plastic was almost the same in the canal and on the towpath. There was evidence of a correlation between roads crossing the canal and the discard by pedestrians, of litter, over the wall into the canal. Sizes of plastic litter showed that 50 and 150 mm length was the most common, probably reflecting the standardised sizes of food and drink packaging. It was noteworthy that most of the plastic material was intact, showing a relatively small degree of deterioration.

Work will continue to research the chemical impact of plastic pollution on the canal ecosystem, including residues in water and canal sediment. It is hoped that the contribution of waste plastic to pollution can be better understood and that the risk of plastic in canals being discharged to rivers and the sea, can be reduced.


The project has already contributed to the Coventry canal festival which was held on 09-06-2019 at the Peace House in Coventry. At the Coventry canal festival, results from the survey were presented to an audience of Coventry residents, activists, volunteers e.g. in litter removal and academics. The results of the survey have been incorporated into a report on the problem of national litter pollution in and around the canal network that will be available internationally. CAWR researchers hope to apply for further funding to continue the investigation with UK research council or EU support.

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