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Why our waterways need protection

Last month the UK government voted in parliament to allow raw sewage from storm outflows to flow directly into our rivers with no consequences for the polluters. No this is not the 1800’s, this has happened in 2021.

The amendment was passed because many Tory MPs think the costs of improving our aged sewer networks and future-proofing sewage and outfall systems (to protect against climate change and freak weather events) would cost too much for the privatised water companies who manage the nation’s sewage and water systems.

A week later the government took a U turn on the vote after 22 MPs threatened to cause a revolt. Sadly, this is the rhetoric we are facing again and again with our current government, with money being more important than the health of our precious natural ecosystems, even during a climate crisis.

This is the beginning of the end for many of our rivers and inland waterways. At present none of our waterways are of bathing water quality, and they are full of bacteria that can be damaging to the health, including E. coli from the runoff from farms where cattle are reared near waterways. At present only 14% of English rivers meet the criteria for 'good' ecological status. The Troubled Water Report by a coalition of charities including The National Trust, RSPB and The Rivers Trust shows that even protected areas of water habitations are not fully protected from pollution, while restoration is often seriously undermined by ineffective monitoring and enforcement. The punishment for water companies is a fine, and the money from the fine is invested straight back into the water company creating a win-win situation for the companies.

Many water bodies can look perfectly healthy but can be seriously ill. The River Lea, in East London is a good example. Although the river appears healthy and is a popular spot for locals to hang out in the summer, it is seriously polluted from a number of overflows that leak sewage straight into the water. Monitoring by the Rivers and Canal Trust shows a significant reduction of biodiversity and an increase in eutrophication, which is when too many phosphates from everyday products such as biological washing detergent and washing up liquid end up in waterways. The phosphate creates algal blooms and the creatures and plants in the waterways effectively suffocate.  

Water and the fashion industry

It’s not only UK waterways that are being killed off by our actions and our lack of action. Many of the world’s water bodies are being seriously affected. The Ganges is one of the most famous rivers in the world, and it is considered a holy river by many. However the Ganges is dying due to the amount of sewage and chemicals that are poured into it every day. A significant contributor to this is the fashion industry, as raw and untreated chemicals from the washing and dying of fabrics are allowed to pour straight into the Ganges.

It's said in some parts of China that you can tell which colour will be in next season by the colour of the local rivers. Many factories also pour waste hot water straight into rivers, instantly killing fish and mammals that live in the rivers.

This is why we work with brands who know their supply chains personally, and can guarantee that water is either treated on site or sent to treatment plants to stop the pollution of waterways.  

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