Our RiverRubbish Project has been run on two separate occasions now and they couldn’t be further apart. I don’t mean this in terms of distance, although this is a big factor. I am in fact referring to the river Almond’s diversity, habitat and community around the sites.
During RiverRubbish1, we decided that downstream of the Sewage Treatment Works (STW) in the Almondell & Calderwood Country Park was a good place to show the full impact of our project. We were in a public park with plenty of trees and diverse habitat and a STW that has been witnessed letting out sewage rag into the river. As predicted, over 4 separate sessions we collected endless bags of rubbish which included plenty of wet wipes and other items flushed down the toilet. We categorised and collected our data in this tranquil setting heavily impacted by the rubbish flowing freely from the outflows of the STW.
RiverRubbish2, on the other hand, was an upper catchment surprise that we would never have predicted. Our second location was downstream of a STW once more, but we were on the outskirts of Whitburn, in the middle of a field cut off from the community with no public footfall. During our scout for a second location in the upper catchment, we came across it and thought that the lack of trees or other bankside vegetation meant there may not be that much to find from the works upstream. The channel was straight and deep, and the banks were high – the rubbish should have been flowing freely through the site, not getting caught on the banks. We assumed after the initial clean up that there wouldn’t be much else to find in terms of sewage rag. We couldn’t have been more wrong!
After 3 session on the banks we pulled out a total 125kilos of rubbish, most of which was wet wipes. This isn’t even counting the tyres, bumpers and traffic cones we pulled out of the banks. As we were doing our clean-up, we could see that the banks were knit together by the wet wipes as they drooped from the undercut banks. We found bizarre items that had been flushed down the toilet – condom wrappers, cotton pads and a catheter to name a few – by the local community.
The worst part for me was showing our volunteers how, when you were down on the bank looking closely, you could see that it was made of a film of wet wipes – that if you tried to grab a handful of soil you would pull up a wipe with a slime of mud on the surface – these spots were all over the banks. At the top of the site we found the culprits – drains overflowing with sewage rag and pouring grey water into the river – one in particular that was horrifying. We were appalled at the state of the river here. It was an eye opener for me as I had initially thought that we would run out of stuff to find and that the volunteers may not be as enthusiastic. I needn’t have worried; the site was deceptive, and everyone was more shocked because of it. This site has only a handful of people trying to keep it in check, trying to fight against the flood of rag and litter. And now that it has been fully brought to our attention, we won’t take it lying down either.
If you want to make a difference when it comes to sewage in rivers, look out for our third RiverRubbish project on the river Avon in Autumn!