This week, not-for-profit Trash Free Trails (TFT) has issued a warning for trail ecosystems that are being “choked” by single-use pollution.
The State of Our Trails Report, supported by Bosch eBike Systems and Bangor University, is a first of its kind study into the causes, prevalence, composition and impacts of single-use pollution on recreational trail ecosystems.
Heralded as the first UK study aiming to establish a scientific understanding of the environmental consequences of litter that escapes into landscapes, today Trash Free Trails deliver a hopeful call that community-led action can be at the heart of changing the statistics.
The Report, drawing together more than 1,600 submissions by 4,500 volunteer Citizen Scientists, estimates that as many as 9.1 million individual pieces of litter could be found across the UK’s 220,000km of public rights of way.
Bringing together data collected between July 2020 and August 2023, the State of Our Trails Report also analyses the 216,000 items removed by volunteers through trail cleaning events, and proposes some of the first analysis of the causes of littering behaviour.
Cross societal awareness and action on plastic pollution has exploded since 2010, but remained focused on ocean and marine environments.
Trash Free Trails believe a scientific blindspot remains when it comes to terrestrial ecosystems.
Rachel Coleman, TFT’s Communications Manager, said: “This Report is not just documentation of our findings; it actually outlines a method for showing the impacts of litter, not just on ecosystems, but on ourselves too.
“We believe the negative impact litter is having on our ecosystems is one thing to get motivated by, but knowing the impact it has on ourselves and our enjoyment of the outdoors – that’s something policy makers and single use product manufacturers can’t ignore.”
Ahead of the 2024 General Election, The State of Our Trails Report makes recommendations in four key areas, including to UK Government and Industry.
They emphasise the benefits of introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for single use drinks containers, and the importance of integrating outdoor education into the national curriculum.
These ‘Evidence-Led Actions, forming a “Trash Free Manifesto” at the conclusion of the Report, also raise the call for more effective accountability from industry regulators on new plastic packaging, and highlight examples from new European Green Deal policies that re-centre the value of recreational trails, repositioning the importance of better policy to protect them.
Coleman added: “This isn’t just about reducing litter anymore. This is about a complete transformation of our relationships to these environments which are central to our sense of identity and community. If we don’t work to better protect them, who will?”