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Supermarket staff clean up Thames

Sopermarket staff Thames 21 Media Release

100 volunteers - including staff from Tesco, Waitrose and Asda, got stuck in on Tuesday 2nd March to remove countless plastic bags - and a shopping trolley! - that were littering East London's foreshore at the Isle of Dogs.

This was part of a clean-up organised by London's leading waterways charity Thames21 to mark the lowest daytime tide in five years.

Vast expanses of river that normally remain covered on regular tides were exposed for a brief period, illustrating some of London's worst affected locations for litter, including the plastic bag litter on the Isle of Dogs. 250,000 plastic bags have been removed from this site since 2001 by Thames21's volunteers. Thames21 points out that while the attitudes of some have changed with regard to plastic bags - this must now extend beyond charity volunteers and most major retailers, to all sections of the community.

A further 100 volunteers took part on the same day at a second event in Fulham with more expected to attend at events in Hammersmith and North Woolwich on 3rd March. Photos of the volunteers in action are by Gavin Parsons.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said:

"Rubbish and carrier bags cause huge environmental damage and are a real eyesore so it's great to see volunteers and Thames21 taking action to clear our rivers. People and supermarkets have made real progress in nearly halving the amount they use and opting for more sustainable alternatives - but the fact that people are still clearing up plastic bags from the Thames shows there’s still a lot of work to do."

Debbie Leach, Chief Executive, Thames21, said:

"The Isle of Dogs shows the worst of London, yet it also shows the best of Londoners. Huge improvements have been made to the river by our volunteers. Steps have also been made by many supermarkets in discouraging disposable plastic bag use. We now need to get the message out to the whole retail sector, and to the whole population. Every volunteer who leaves the Thames foreshore after an event with us is a transformed plastic bag user - vowing to change how they use and dispose of plastic bags. Thames21 is committed to transforming London's waterways back to health with the help of our volunteers over the coming years."

Ruth Giradet, CR & Community Director, Tesco said:

"Tesco is working hard to help our customers use fewer plastic bags. By giving customers free green clubcard points for re-using bags, and making a range of attractive and affordable alternatives available, our customers are now using more than 50% fewer carrier bags than they did in August 2006. For any waste that still arises, we offer recycling facilities to our customers, and we are now diverting 100% of our store waste from landfill.

The Thames21 Deep Clean event is a great opportunity for our staff to demonstrate our commitments in a practical way."

Russell Cattell, Branch Manager, Waitrose Canary Wharf, comments:

"We're delighted to support Thames21 and our volunteers are looking forward to getting their wellies on for the event. Like Thames21, Waitrose is committed to reducing the number of plastic bags in the environment, and through a range of initiatives our customers are now using half the bags they were just a few years ago."

Karen Todd, Corporate Affairs, Asda, said:

"At Asda we are working hard to reduce the number of carrier bags used by focussing on changes in customer and colleague behaviour and in May last year we exceeded government reductions targets. We have launched lots of initiatives to help customers avoid having to use single trip bags, by having bag for life giveaways, putting checkout operators in control of the number of bags they hand out and by reminding customers through car park signage each time they visit, to remember to bring their bags with them."

Murad Qureshi, Chair of Environment Committee & London Waterways Commission, London Assembly, said:

"It is good to see volunteers and the supermarkets putting together some hard labour under the coordination of Thames21 to remove plastic bags along the Thames foreshore in London when the tide is low. Plastic bags cause a lot of damage as they are not biodegradable for 100s of years. So it is right and proper such efforts are made."

Thames21 is London’s leading waterways charity and works with over 8,000 volunteers every year to improve London’s waterways. Please see the website for more information (opens in anew window). Thames21 is a registered charity number 1103997.