Last week, a scientific study analysing the levels of microplastic contamination in Manchester released its conclusions. It made for grim reading. The River Tame, where the scientists carried out their study, had a shocking level of contamination.
This conclusion comes as no surprise, in 2019 an area of the Tame Riverbed was identified as having the highest recorded level of plastic pollution in the world. This new report is useful, however, in isolating the causes of the extreme levels of plastic pollution that we see in Greater Manchester.
The report highlights that the ‘key source’ of plastic pollution comes from untreated wastewater being disposed of outside of permitted circumstances.
I’ll therefore be demanding that the Environment Agency clamps down on United Utilities’ disposal of wastewater into the river from their Ashton, Dukinfield, Hyde and Denton plants, which is one of the main reasons for the plastic pollution. This must stop.
As with any issue that involves waste, our own actions are also important. In the UK, it’s estimated that five million tonnes of plastic are used every year, half of which is packaging. I am therefore pleased that the Government has laid out its goal for zero avoidable waste by 2050 but can’t help but feel that we need to be more ambitious and innovative if we are to solve the problem.
This is where Greater Manchester comes in. I’m not just being biased when I say that Greater Manchester is the hub of sustainable innovation. The University of Manchester ranks first in the world in its achievements towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, and recently several Manchester universities, technological and business institutions teamed up to take part in the Rethinking Resources and Recycling Project.
Here in Tameside, meanwhile, our council has recently signed up to the #PlasticFreeGM campaign which aims to eliminate single use plastics in our city-region and become carbon neutral by 2038. Businesses have responded to this campaign with ingenious innovations and have altered their own practises to make a difference.
The way to sort out plastic pollution then, follows a familiar formula. Government support, investment and regulatory action is vital, but so is action on a community level. Greater Manchester is leading the way on this, and the rest of the world should take note.