What is a Plasticblitz?

A Bioblitz is an event where people find and identify as many species as possible in a given area over a specific period of time. Scientists, families, students and community members work together to get a snapshot of the area’s biodiversity.

In the same way, a Plasticblitz is an event bringing together members of a community to find, identify and record the plastic ‘species’ they find.  

Plastic pollution is a serious and growing problem in our river systems. Plastic waste threatens wildlife through ingestion and entanglement, and slowly breaks down into microplastics which can work their way into the food chain.

Shockingly, once plastic enters our rivers, there is no statutory obligation for any organisation or public body to remove it. This has resulted in plastic waste being allowed to accumulate in our rivers where it can then be carried out to sea. Up to 80% of plastic pollution found on our beaches has come from inland areas via rivers and streams.

Launched by Thames 21 in 2021, the Plasticblitz event originally focused only on the River Thames and its tributaries. Last year, nearly 500 volunteers collected 437 bags of rubbish. A total of 14,581 items were individually categorised, with 85% of this being plastic. The worst plastic offenders were wet wipes, bottle tops, sweet wrappers and cigarette stubs.

This event has three key aims:
1) To complete a catchment wide clean-up of plastic pollution
2) To collect data on the most common plastic items found across river catchments, and the areas where plastic pollution is most problematic. This data can be used to educate groups, create publicity and lobby businesses
3) To join up multiple community groups, amplifying their voices and helping them share ideas.

This year, for the first time, the Plasticblitz went going nationwide. Thames21 joined forces with the Environment Agency and Rotary International to call on volunteering, community and environmental groups to take part in the Plasticblitz between Saturday 27th May and Sunday 11th June 2023

What did we do?

Strandliners ran three events on the River Rother.  We carried out brand audits, as we did for the Preventing Plastic Pollution project (this gives us the most data for future use) collecting data on the ‘species’ of plastic pollution we found. We then transferred the data to a Plasticblitz survey sheet and uploaded the results to the Plasticblitz portal. 

We chose areas we have surveyed in the past, so we could compare the data over time. What variables affect the amount of waste we find? Vegetation, weather, season and access may all have an impact. The vegetation was certainly higher and more extensive than on our previous visits. Why was there less rubbish this time? We may have been clearing historic rubbish and are now beginning to see a true picture of what accumulates in our regular survey areas.

What did we find?

At all three locations, we found far fewer items than before, but how did the ‘Litter DNA’, which gives us a picture of the proportions of each category, compare?

On the saltmarsh at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, around 1 km from the river mouth, we found less than half the number of items than in the PPP survey at the end of January. The proportion of fishing, personal care, smoking, and food packaging items halved this time. The proportion of household items doubled  (could these have been lost from boats?) and the proportion of smoking items increased tenfold. 

Similarly, at Monk Bretton bridge, ~3.5 km from the river mouth, we found less than half the number of items found in February, but the ‘Litter DNA’ is broadly similar, as shown in the pie charts below. 

At Scots Float, ~6 km from the river mouth, the upper limit of the river’s tidal reach, there were just over half the number of items found in the PPP survey in February. 

The Environment Agency and VolkerStevin are carrying out extensive works here to improve the flood defences. Some of the footpaths are closed, so access has been restricted at times. Special thanks to the EA and to VolkerStevin for granting us access to the site and for their hospitality. 

There was just over half the proportion of food packaging items compared to the PPP survey but double the proportion of household items, and a large increase in the proportion of smoking materials. 

Just for fun, we gave some of our plastic ‘species’ scientific names with a brief description. They became a plastic version of  ‘Tweet of the Day’. Can you guess what they are? The answers are at the end. 

Plasticblitz Quiz

1. Vapus intoxicatus
Habitat: all environments, particularly near young humans
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: many colours, patterns & aromas 
Environmental impact: high – lithium in their cells difficult to recover

2. Poculum capulus
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subspp. costa & mcdonaldii common
Environmental impact: relatively low, depending on composition
Note: not strictly Plasticus species but has plastic endothelium 

3. Aurem baculum
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: presence may indicate Purgamentorum emisso
Subspecies: sp. from order Plasticus officially extinct, but still found in environment
Environmental impact: medium

4. Sacculum excrementum
Habitat: all environments, often found hanging in trees
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subspp. viridian & nigreos common
Environmental impact: medium 
Health impact: risk of Toxocariasis if contaminated

5. Pannus humidum
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subspp. infans & biodegradablis common
Environmental impact: high – may spawn Bergus pinguedo if flushed

6. Utrem plasticus
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subspp. aqua lucozadis common
Environmental impact: high; may float large distances; demonstrates need for systema depositum reditus

7. Filum ignire
Habitat: beaches & tidal rivers
Distribution: current population may have migrated across the Oceanum Atlanticum, potentially from Bostonium
Subspecies: subsp. luteus most common 
Environmental impact: relatively low

8. Amphora metallicum
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subsp. taurus rubrum common
Environmental impact: medium
Note: not strictly Plasticus species but has plastic endothelium 

9. Fasciculum annuum
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subsp. walkerii common
Environmental impact: high, due to longevity – very old specimens have been found

10. Fasciculum scelerisque
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: subsp. cadbrium common (with its characteristic purple hue) 
Environmental impact: high, due to abundance and longevity

11. Receptaculum plasticum spuma
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread
Subspecies: may become officially extinct after 1st October, but old individuals will still be found 
Environmental impact: high, particularly attractive to Larus Argentatus

12. Colum tabaci
Habitat: all environments
Distribution: widespread – can migrate to beaches via drains
Subspecies: often unidentifiable to subspecies level 
Environmental impact: relatively low but may remain in environment for 10-15 years