Microplastics polluting the River Severn
The River Severn is one of 13 rivers in the UK that Greenpeace says has been contaminated by microplastics.
The environmental campaign group is calling on the Government to set legally-binding plastic reduction targets in the upcoming Environment Bill and to create an independent environmental watchdog to enforce those targets.
In tests on the river, which runs through Shropshire and Mid Wales, it said 42 pieces of microplastic were collected in an hour.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust has been carrying out its own campaign to clean up the River Severn although flood waters meant a Love Your Magnificent Severn kayak expedition had to be cancelled last week.
The Greenpeace study also found that the River Mersey contains proportionally more plastic pollution than the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area recognised by scientists as one of the most plastic-polluted expanses of water on earth.
Scientists and campaigners collected water samples at separate points along each of the 13 rivers, which were analysed by Greenpeace scientists at the University of Exeter using infrared plastic detector called a fourier-transform infrared spectrometer.
In the first nationwide exercise of its kind, experts found 1,271 pieces of plastic, ranging in size from straw and bottle-top fragments to tiny microbeads less than 1mm across.
Five out of 13 rivers contained microbeads - which were partially banned in 2017.
More than half the rivers tested contained plastic pellets called nurdles, which are used as a raw material in the production of plastic products.
What are microplastics and what are their effects?
Television presenter and wildlife expert, Steve Backnall was speaking in Westminster today
He said: "Microplastics are small plastic particles, less than 5 mm in diameter, that are often fragments of larger degraded items like plastic bottles, packaging and bags. Scientific research has found that when eaten by wildlife, such as fish, microplastics can cause gut blockage, alter feeding behaviour, growth rates and reproduction.
"Previous research has shown that bacteria are able to latch onto pieces of plastic which can cause disease to spread and also that microplastics can both attract and leach out harmful chemicals."
He said that last week it emerged that humans could be ingesting the equivalent of one credit card’s worth of microplastic every week, via drinking common beverages including bottled water and beer and eating common food-stuffs such as shellfish and salt.
"The human health impact of this is not yet clear," he added.
A spokesman for Shropshire Wildlife Trust said: "Love Your Magnificent Severn is an annual campaign that highlights the huge quantities of litter that can be found in our rivers and the threat it has on our water quality and wildlife.
"It is estimated that over 80 per cent of plastic waste enters our oceans via rivers, which equates to a staggering 8 million tons of plastic a year. This is the same as emptying a rubbish truck into the ocean every minute."