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Our work to remove litter from the Thames

Protecting the environmental health of the tidal River Thames, the animals that live near and in it and the fragile estuary habitats is part of the Port of London Authority’s principal responsibilities.

Port of London Authority Driftwood Service

For many decades, we have operated a “driftwood service” – reflecting the most common issue in the river at the time it was created — that removes up to 400 tonnes of debris annually from the Thames. Passive Debris Collectors (PDCs), now referred to as ‘Litter Collectors’, were invented by the Port of London Authority (PLA) over 20 years ago and are the principle collection method for removing rubbish and other debris from the river.

The Driftwood team also recover larger items from the river such as shopping trolleys, bicycles and even occasionally cars that have been parked by the river and floated in on a rising tide. The team also supports foreshore clean ups, such as those run by Thames21, by providing PLA ‘Litter Cages’ for disposal of litter after a clean-up event – find out more here.

Litter Collectors

There are eight PDCs in operation, positioned in key locations in the Thames, between Greenwich and Putney where the current and tidal stream carry the most litter. Floating rubbish is intercepted and collected on both the ebb and flood tide, which our Driftwood craft collect for recycling and disposal.

The litter collectors have had a positive impact on the river, removing over 200 tonnes of rubbish annually between 2014 – 2020. Studies carried out in partnership with King’s College London and Durham University have found that single-use plastic items are the most dominant form of waste entering the PDCs in central London.

Lower Estuary Litter Collector Trial

Whilst the PDCs have had a positive impact in the upper reaches of the river, evidence from continued monitoring by the PLA and others has demonstrated a large amount of debris is found downstream of Greenwich.

In the ongoing commitment to remove as much litter as possible, on World Oceans Day 2021, a £150,000 plan for a bespoke, floating litter collector for the lower Thames in Essex was announced by DP World London Gateway and the PLA.

Two years of monitoring and analysis will guide the design of a new, bespoke PDC to suit conditions lower down the estuary, close to DP World’s new London Gateway smart hub.

Find out more about the bespoke litter collector here.

Cleaner Thames Campaign

Launched in 2015, the PLA’s Cleaner Thames campaign was created to stop the tide of rubbish that ends up in the River Thames. The campaign aimed at encouraging Londoners to ‘do the right thing’ and make sure their rubbish goes in the bin, not in the river.

This campaign was supported by several partners including leading environmental charities, research centres and infrastructure providers such as Royal Holloway University, London Wildlife Trust, Thames21 and Marine Conservation Society.

You can find out more about the Cleaner Thames campaign here.

Cleaning the Thames

Launched in September 2020, our Cleaning the Thames website aims to connect volunteers with a riverside clean-up near them. The public can browse and contact organisers of litter picks that have been risk assessed and approved by the PLA. Before joining, people can read important safety information and tips about visiting the foreshore. Find out more about Cleaning the Thames here.