Experts from the University of Manchester ran the first study of its kind, examining the microplastics found in river sediments across 40 sites in Greater Manchester. A detailed catchment-wide study of this kind of pollution has never been ran anywhere in the world before.
A site at the River Tame in Denton, Greater Manchester contained more than half a million plastic particles per square metre. This is the highest level recorded anywhere in the world, ahead of studies in South Korea and Hong Kong.
Microplastics were found in all parts of the river network that were studied. They are very small pieces of plastic, which include microfibers – found in our clothes, our car tyres and even our toothpaste – as well as microbeads and other plastic fragments.
After entering into our oceans from the river systems, microplastics have been found to absorb dangerous toxins, and then go on to be ingested by fish, thus making their way into our food chain.
Professor Jamie Woodward, the University’s Head of Geography said: “We are only beginning to understand the extent of the microplastic contamination problem in the world’s rivers.”
“To tackle the problem in the oceans, we have to prevent microplastics entering river channels. We also need to reduce our use of plastics, large and small.”
The study’s findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.