Globally, about 80% of plastic pollution comes from terrestrial sources and approximately four million tonnes of plastic waste enter the sea via rivers every year, yet little is known about the extent of this pollution and the understanding of its origin.

Working in partnership with 17 other organisations from across France and England, Westcountry Rivers Trust is proud to be a part of the Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project.

This seeks to understand and reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in the marine environment.

By looking at catchments from source to sea, the project will identify and target hotspots for plastic, embed behaviour change in local communities and businesses, and implement effective solutions and alternatives.

The €14m PPP project has been approved by the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme, which has committed €9.9m in funding through the European Regional Development Fund. 

The project will work across seven pilot sites: Brest Harbour, Bay of Douarnenez, Bay of Veys, Poole Harbour, and the Medway, Tamar, and Great Ouse estuaries. 

The information gathered from research in these areas will allow the cross-Channel partnerships to tackle plastic waste that enters the sea via rivers every year.



Farm Plastics Advice Sheet

Download our advice sheet, written in collaboration with the Environment Agency, to help you keep on top of your farm plastic waste.

Farm Plastic Waste Management advice sheet

Preventing Plastic Pollution in the Tamar Survey Guides and Resources

Our Survey Form Guide

Our River Survey Form

Our River & Beach Survey Form

Our Litter Picking Guide

Cigarettes and Plastic

When we’ve been out and about conducting research for Prventing Plastic pollution, we invariably come across discarded litter.

Where we can, if not on a specific litter pick session, we pick it up and dispose of it safely. But we are continually surprised by the amount of single use plastic we find discarded.

But what you might be surprised to learn is that the butts of stubbed out cigarettes contain plastic – cellulose acetate. And you can only smoke them once, so that’s single use plastic being thrown away. As the butts degrade over time, they break up into tiny microplastic particles.

In seven litter picks conducted in late 2020, we added 80 cigarette butts to our bins. When they are left on the floor they can end up down drains, in our rivers and then in the ocean. 

According to a 2019 blog post by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) cigarette butts are ‘the most littered item in the world and in the UK alone it is estimated that 122 tonnes of smoking-related litter is dropped every single day’. Every single day!

That’s cause for concern as cigarette butts not only include plastic, they will also leach out toxins such as arsenic and lead in the water. The ASH blog also pointed out that ‘one cigarette butt left to soak in water for 96 hours will release enough toxins to kill half of the salt or fresh water fish that are exposed to it’.

We aren’t here to advise people about smoking – everyone knows it’s not good for them – but we are here to ask that you join us in Preventing Plastic Pollution. 

If you smoke, please think before you flick.


Read the ASH blog at:

Check out National Geographic’s Cigarette Story of Plastic too:

Butt really? The environmental impact of cigarettes paper:

Cigarettes have a significant impact on the environment, not just health report:

EarthWatch – Plastic Rivers report:

Our latest update - December 2020

It has certainly been an unusual year to make a start on our Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project.

But not detered by our new ways of working, our PPP team began by mapping the potential sources of where plastic (micro and macro) could get into the Tamar catchment waterways.

These included sewage treatment outfalls, roads, urban areas, land use and equestrian centers, to name but a few.

Lydia Deacon, one of our PPP Tamar project officers said: “By mapping these out, we could start to build a picture of potential hotspots of plastic and use the map to identify where to focus our clean up and intervention efforts.

“The mapping is an ever-changing process, and, as the project progresses, we will use our experiences out in the field to evolve the map into its most true picture of plastic hotspots.”

The team’s first foray out in the field was in July 2020 on the River Deer (around Chilsworthy and Holsworthy). They had already identified potential hotspots due to roads crossing rivers, outfalls, residential areas and publicly accessible areas next to the river.

Although Chilsworthy is a rural village, it was clear there was excessive litter in the few laybys. This followed at the Holsworthy sites.

These initial findings have led to Flo (from our partners at Plymouth University) looking into whether there is a scientific correlation between higher levels of litter and laybys.

Since the first trip out, the team has now sampled in Launceston, Tavistock and a few sites on Dartmoor as well as supporting Plymouth University with micro-sampling at seven different locations and layby sampling at five different sites.

“We have found areas of excessive litter build-up and identified where simple interventions could make a noticeable difference to how much litter enters the Tamar and its tributaries,” Lydia said.

“We have also come across areas where litter is sparce and active community groups are out regularly cleaning their natural environments, which is fantastic to see and very motivating.”

The data being collected is added to an online system, used by all partners, and will be key to how work is progressed through events such as community cleans, interventions and prevention work.

It also helps to validate the mapping and modelling work, which in the future can be used to assess different catchments’ sources of plastic waste and in turn help prevent it from entering our rivers and then our seas.

“Looking to 2021, we are excited to get out and about in the catchment once more and we will be running community litter pick events,” concluded Lydia.

We would love your help to clean up your local areas and prevent plastic from entering the waterways – keep an eye on our events section where we will be adding details early in the New Year.

All of our work is done under strict COVID working practices – this means our plans may need to change at short notice.

As part of our project work, we will be building on our excellent Citizen Science Investigations (CSI) community who already help monitor water quality issues in our region’s river catchments, including recording plastic inputs.

Through PPP, we will be increasing the recording of plastic contamination within our CSI analysis to gather data on
the origins and accumulation of plastic in the Tamar catchment, which will inform where we need to carry out
local interventions – take part in our Tamar Plastic Hotspot Survey too.

This could lead us to work with farmers and businesses upstream to stop plastics getting into the rivers in the first place. It will also include river clean-up opportunities for people and local groups who love their rivers and streams and want to get involved.

Email [email protected] to find out more, or contact our project manager Andy Rogers at [email protected] or call 01579 372140.

Our monitoring takes us across the Tamar catchment and includes sampling at sites such as laybys and on land in addition to our work in rivers and on the sea.

See our gallery below…

Project objectives:

PPP will improve the quality of Transitional Waters across the France (Channel) England area (SO 3.2) by;

  • Developing a scalable and transferable mapping tool to provide quantifiable evidence of sources and quantities of plastic pollution in catchments.
  • Developing an effective portfolio of innovative interventions to reduce plastic waste in or entering catchments.
  • Transforming the behaviour of target groups and demonstrating best practice.

Expected project results:

PPP will improve water quality with:

  • a) A 10 % improvement in good ecological status (WFD Descriptor 10) in transitional waters.
  • b) A reduction in the harm caused by plastic pollution in rivers and the sea equivalent to €38.8M-€126M (150 km river/coast cleared, 200 t plastic removed).
  • c) A plastic-free charter implemented by 650 businesses & 50 supply chains modified.
  • d) Projected uptake to include+10 more catchments 2 yrs post project, and 100 catchments after 5 years.

Partners involved are: 

  • Queen Mary University of London
  • LABOCEA Conseil, Expertise et Analyses
  • Syndicat mixte établissement public de gestion et d’aménagement de la baie de Douarnenez
  • Office Français De La Biodiversité, Parc naturel marin d’Iroise
  • Brest Métropole
  • Centre national de la recherche scientifique
  • Counseil départemental de la Manche
  • Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer
  • Environment Agency
  • The Rivers Trust
  • Syndicat de bassin de l’Elorn
  • Brest’aim
  • Westcountry Rivers Trust
  • South East Rivers Trust
  • Plymouth City Council
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • University of Plymouth