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Plastic in the River - From its source to the sea...

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

In a very sad article published in the press recently, a dead whale washed up on the coast with over 100kgs of plastic found inside its stomach. What’s even more concerning is that more than 80 percent of plastic in the sea which is consumed by wildlife starts inland, washed down or thrown into our many rivers.

Pete Astles, a local resident to Matlock Bath is an avid kayaker and environmentalist. For exercise, he takes regular paddles in his boat up the River Derwent through Matlock Bath to Artist Corner, a local beauty spot. On his return trip back downstream he picks up litter, dropped or blown in to the river through Matlock Bath by the many tourists that flock there. Pete can easily fill a large bin bag within a few minutes on every trip. The rubbish is commonly polystyrene chip trays, cups and pots, Coca Cola, Dr Pepper, Lucozade and mineral water bottles. Recently he’s even been coming across an increasing amount of single use PPE floating in the river. 

Since the influx of visitors after Corona Virus lock down has eased, the local community, residents and business owners have joined forces and have formed the Facebook group "Then Wombles of Matlock Bath". They venture out daily and clean up the streets and pavements. It’s a truly great community effort. Matlock Bath Rowing boats have also been cleaning litter on a daily basis from the river.

Pete comments “Litter in the street is not great, but it is easily cleaned up by the Derbyshire Dales District Council green team and our very own troop of Wombles. The rubbish in the river is a tougher problem though. It’s not accessible to most people and can only be collected from the water by kayak or rowing boat. Last week, just below the promenade fence I found a new moorhen’s nest, constructed from leaves, weed, fast-food packaging and even a newly dropped Covid mask. This was one of the saddest things I’ve seen along the river. Our selfishness immediately effecting nature and biodiversity real time.“

Moorhen nest made from leaves, rubbish & covid mask.

“What can we do as caring humans to solve this unacceptable littering, which is not just happening in the Derwent Valley. The problem is national. Why do we visit places of natural beauty, then leave it in a mess for others to clean up. We must all change our ways before it’s too late. The solution to the new wave of litter strewn across our beauty spots will take a massive a team effort from everyone involved.”

Litter from one kayak trip through Matlock Bath

Pete wants to inspire and bring together a team of local businesses, residents, councils and government, proposing the following courses of action and finding workable solutions in order to eliminate the tide of plastic pollution heading down our rivers and out to sea.


Let’s educate and inspire our children not to drop litter. Also encourage them to pick other peoples up if they find it, of course considering hygiene and safety. Teach them to avoid single use plastic packaged goods, promoting home cooked or fresh snack alternatives and using refillable drinks containers. The children, teachers and parents of Matlock Bath Holy Trinity School already carry out regular litter picks.


Let’s tackle the source of the plastic. Coca Cola alone produce 200,000 single use plastic bottles every minute. Let’s find an alternative. Returnable, refundable bottles perhaps? Dispensed drinks, using refillable cups could perhaps be the solution?

A lot of the bottles found in the river are from mineral water. Let’s use refillable bottles and mugs instead. Bringing our water from home will save money or ask local businesses to offer free refills.

Polystyrene trays and cups are common place in the river. Let’s find compostable and easily recyclable alternatives.

Plastic forks last for hundreds of years. Let’s use wooden alternatives that rot down in a few weeks.


Let’s encourage our local takeaway food outlets to offer sustainable and environmentally packaged alternatives. Dispensed drinks, free water refills could be workable solutions. Source card fast food trays and cups. Reduce packaging. Encourage consumers to use the bins and to provide recycling for them.


Encourage consumers to avoid single use plastics, choose alternatives and to bring their own drinks containers. Promote responsible disposal of litter. Champion a “Leave no trace” attitude.


Work with our local council to provide more bins in Matlock Bath. Most visitors enjoy their take aways by the river, opposite the chip shops. There is only one big belly bin there which is often overflowing. There needs to be 2-3 more along the promenade. Currently the contents of the big belly bins are not recycled. This waste should be sorted for recycling rather than going straight to landfill.

Position polite and inspiring signage on the riverside fence. “ Please no litter “ & “ Leave no trace “ are needed. Ask the local school and community to design the signage.


Lobby our government to take action now. Ask them to ban all none essential single use plastics. Banning cotton buds, drinks straws and stirrers is really not enough. Let's make the supply chain find new solutions.

Promote no littering. Prosecute offenders, perhaps making them do a couple of days litter picking? Task our MPs to tackle this now before it’s too late. The litter problem in Matlock Bath is not uncommon, this is just an example of what’s going on nationally. 

Local traders will be reluctant to change as there will be cost implications to them in reducing single use plastics. Government policy banning none essential single use plastics is required to change the mindset of the supply chain. Hit the source of the pollution, and the rest will go green. They will have no choice. If polystyrene trays are no longer available, then a green alternative will have to be used by all. 

The biodiversity of our rivers and seas are massively threatened by the litter and single use plastic we mindlessly drop. Our leader Boris Johnson spoke out recently about biodiversity.

“We cannot afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and it is happening at a frightening rate. Left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all. Extinction is forever - so our action must be immediate."

David Attenborough also spoke out saying:

“Treat the natural world as if its precious. Don’t squander the bits of it we have control of. “

So, in both Boris and Davids wise words, the time has come for us all to work together as a local team from Matlock Bath to solve the litter problem. I ask our community, businesses, residents, councillors and MP Sarah Dines for immediate help.

Because “Unless someone like us cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr Seuss - The Lorax. 

Please help us solve the litter and plastic problem now.

Peter Astles. Local Resident. Paddle Peak founder. Matlock Bath Climate Action Group Member.

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