Almost 20,000 plastic and glass bottles, 800 football, rugby and tennis balls, 120 bin bags of rubbish, 60 pieces of footwear, 22 plastic ducks, 15 traffic cones, 11 shopping trolleys and 7 bicycles, are just some of the things fished out of a local river over nine months.
The Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA made the startling discovery as he took to the River Bann in a kayak, to take part in a litter pick-up in an effort to clear the river of debris and improve the water and habitat quality for wildlife and nature.
The Minister was escorted by local resident Jon Medlow, who spent from September 2019 to April 2020 voluntarily sweeping the river for litter and often fills a dinghy full of rubbish.
Speaking after his experience, the Minister said: “I am shocked at the level of pollution, debris and waste in our waterways. The volume is truly appalling and it’s obvious that it has a profound and damaging impact on the fish and wildlife using our rivers and on the ecosystem including organisms, plants, grasses and trees near the river banks.
“We all love getting out to enjoy the multiple benefits that our outdoors provides – the pleasant scenery, the exercise and the good feeling we get from being close to nature. But like me, many of you will have witnessed the ugly and damaging impacts of litter and dumped rubbish. Many of us are careful but others are selfish and lazy and simply dispose of things without thinking or caring about the effects. Those people need to change our ways.
“A plastic straw takes approximately 200 years to decompose, a plastic bottle 450 years and some plastics never decompose. It is our responsibility to help our environment to thrive. I’ve seen only one river today but it should be enough of a warning to us all whether it is in rivers, in our forests, on land or on our beaches– dispose of your waste and rubbish correctly, do not fly-tip or drop litter, recycle often, reduce the packaging you use and please, protect our natural world and keep it healthy.”
Jon Medlow has been voluntarily clearing the River Bann for almost a year, and said: “The River Bann Cleanup began in September 2019 after I noticed the excessive amount of litter in my local river, weeks previously. I purchased a kayak and four person dinghy which was attached to and towed by the kayak. During my 8 hour shifts on the river, the dinghy was filled to capacity each time.
“Over a 9 month period and with over 500 hours of lifting litter, I covered a 12 mile stretch of the River Bann from Portadown Golf Club to the Bannfoot at the mouth of Lough Neagh. I have been able to purchase two kayaks and equipment to enable others to get onto the river and help with the clean-up, free of charge. All of these volunteers had never been on our local river before and for some, it was their first time on a kayak. All have enjoyed this experience and many are keen to get back onto the river again and help keep it clean.”