Research carried out by experts at the University of Manchester recorded the highest level of microplastic pollution at the River Tame in Denton, Greater Manchester, with more than half a million plastic particles per square metre. The team analysed sediments from 10 rivers within 20 km of Manchester, and took samples from 40 different sites, with microplastics being found in all parts of the river network that were studied. The study also showed that the major floods that occurred in the area in 2015-16 flushed 43 billion pieces of microplastic into the sea.
The vast amount of plastic found in such a small catchment has led scientists to conclude that the current estimate of five trillion plastic particles in the ocean is a gross underestimate. The research also showed that a lot of the pollution is originating upstream in river catchments, and thus needs to be controlled before we begin to clean up our oceans. Whilst the ban on microbeads is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to address this growing problem. This includes addressing areas like microfibers, a topic which has received limited attention despite being a significant source of water pollution.