LONDON, – A British prison has launched a meal delivery service staffed by inmates as part of a charity initiative that aims to cut reoffending rates by giving prisoners a better chance of finding jobs after their release.
The Clink Charity opened a restaurant at Brixton prison in London six years ago, but the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close in March, prompting the debut of the “Clink at Home” delivery service last week.
Prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences get on-the-job training and work towards industry-recognised qualifications. They work on a voluntary basis in exchange for the training they receive.
Christopher Moore, the Clink Charity’s chief executive, said the restaurant programme gives prisoners a vital taste of “life on the outside, on the inside”.
“Prisoners come down for eight hours a day, in an environment that doesn’t look or feel like prison, replicating a real-life working environment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“They’re learning to work as part of a team, they’re gaining confidence and are motivated and proud of what they do.”
According to the Clink Charity’s 2019 report, which draws on government statistics, reoffending rates among former prisoners who were enrolled in the programme fall by up to 66%.
Those who take part in the programme leave with industry-standard certificates in food service, preparation and cookery, as well as soft skills essential to helping them readjust to life outside prison, Moore said.
The Brixton restaurant, where diners have to pre-book a table to enter the jail, is one of four similar eateries based at prisons across the country. Between them, they train about 200 prisoners at any one time.
Moore said many former trainees do go on to find jobs in the restaurant business, with several now working at four- and five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants.
Elizabeth Orr, 42, one of the programme’s first participants at a prisoner-run restaurant in Styal Prison in northwest England, is now head chef at her family-run business in Liverpool.
“I lost everything when I went to prison but the support that was given to me absolutely changed my life,” said Orr, who has been nominated to receive a local award for her contribution to helping maintain vital services during the lockdown.
“When I first came home, I was in full-time employment as a pastry chef within two weeks. It felt like a sense of normality.”
SAO PAULO, Brazil — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, Catholic organizations have warned that protective measures should be taken to keep the virus away from the country’s Indigenous population — or the consequences would be disastrous.
The surge in the number of cases among Indigenous since the end of May appears to demonstrate that the worst has happened.
With at least 367,180 cases of infection and 12,685 deaths, the Amazonian region is one of the epicenters of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic. The disease is not only impacting large cities such as Manaus and Belém but has also infiltrated many communities in the countryside, including the villages of traditional peoples that live in the rainforest.
The coronavirus has infected at least 6,626 members of Indigenous groups in the region and killed 157 of them. In the whole country, there are at least 9,500 cases involving Indigenous persons, with about 380 deaths, according to the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.
The spread of COVID-19 among Indigenous groups reflects a general lack of governmental protection of their rights, said Antônio Cerqueira de Oliveira, executive secretary of the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council (known by its Portuguese acronym CIMI).
“In previous administrations, Indigenous rights were not fully secure … but at least there was some kind of dialogue with those peoples,” Oliveira told NCR. “President Jair Bolsonaro has closed all doors and established an anti-Indigenous policy.”
Since his 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the policy of establishing land reservations for Indigenous groups that are able to prove their historic ties with the territory they are claiming. Although it’s mandated by the constitution, Bolsonaro has claimed that Indigenous peoples already have too much land in Brazil, and promised that he wouldn’t grant any new territory to them.
At the same time, Bolsonaro has declared on various occasions that he would loosen the environmental and legal restrictions for economic activities in the country — especially in the Amazon.
Since he took office in January 2019, there has been an intensification of land invasions and destruction of the rainforest, perpetrated by illegal loggers and miners and by ranchers who want to expand their farming areas. The process often involves violence against Amazonian laborers and Indigenous.
Bolsonaro has also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, even as Brazil has the second-highest number of cases, nearly 1.7 million as of July 8, after the U.S. He tested positive for the disease July 6.
“With the pandemic, the already insufficient number of monitoring agents in the Amazon almost disappeared and invasions quickly increased,” said Oliveira. “The intruders are not only destroying the forest and threatening the Indigenous peoples, but they’re also taking the virus with them.”
Porto Velho Archbishop Roque Paloschi, CIMI’s president, said that wildfires set by invaders also have the potential to increase the dissemination of respiratory diseases. “The removal of such intruders from the Indigenous lands is urgent,” he told NCR.
But the governmental agency for Indigenous affairs, the National Indian Foundation, seems to be going in the wrong direction. According to Oliveira, the foundation has removed its agents from Indigenous lands that are awaiting official recognition from the government, leaving many peoples unassisted.
The protection for isolated Indigenous groups — which live in the rainforest and avoid any contact with non-Indigenous people — has also been severely weakened, said Oliveira. “The doors are wide open for invaders,” he said.
Catholic missionaries — at least the ones connected to CIMI — stopped visiting the rural villages at the beginning of the outbreak. They advised Indigenous groups to avoid contact with people from the outside and to remain in their reservations as much as possible.
But eventually, some of the members of the communities go into the city in order to receive their salaries or governmental assistance and to buy groceries. That’s when spread of the virus might occur.
“People have not been properly oriented to use hand sanitizers after leaving a store, for instance, or to always wear face masks, at least when they leave their villages,” said Fr. Aquilino Tsiruia, a member of the Xavante people in Mato Grosso State.
“The healthcare authorities should have told the Indigenous peoples about it, but they failed to do it,” said Tsiruia.
At least 32 Xavante people died from COVID-19, most of them in June. “The local healthcare system is very precarious, with only a handful of ICU beds available,” said Tsiruia. “Our people has a considerable population of elders, many of whom with diabetes. Everybody is very frightened.”
Reports of a lack of physicians and equipped hospitals abound among the Amazonian Indigenous peoples. According to Oliveira, the healthcare situation has deteriorated since Bolsonaro canceled an agreement with Cuba that allowed hundreds of Cuban doctors to work in remote areas in Brazil.
The program had been created during the administration of left-wing former President Dilma Rousseff and was ideologically targeted by the far-right Bolsonaro.
“In many Indigenous reservations, the Cuban doctors were the only professionals available. Now, there’s a total absence of healthcare specialists,” said Oliveira.
This is one of the reasons why many Indigenous people report that they have been treating COVID-19 cases with traditional healing herbs and teas.
“If we only count on regular medicines, there won’t be enough for everybody,” said Fr. Justino Rezende, a member of the Tuyuka people who lives in the city of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, in Amazonas state.
Rezende came down with COVID-19 in June. “The number of cases here is going up,” he said. “Many elderly people are dying.”
Given that most villages are near small cities, the most serious cases are often taken to the state capitals, where the hospitals are a little better. Deaths occurring so far away from patients’ families lead to other complications.
“The disease is disrupting millennium-long life systems, given that it impedes the practice of very important rituals — especially the funereal ones,” explained Sr. Laura Vicuña Manso, a CIMI missionary. “The Indigenous groups feel deeply like they are doing something wrong when they can’t perform their traditional rites.”
Manso described the despair of a few leaders of the Karitiana people from Rondonia State when the first COVID-19 victim of their village died.
“The healthcare authorities wanted to bury the body in the city,” she said. “In the end, after much discussion, we were able to take the body to the village, but they couldn’t perform the whole traditional ritual.”
More than seven million passengers ride Seoul’s metro system every day. But since September 2019, those who descend underground at the city’s Sangdo Station and push through the ticket gate are met with an unusual site: behind a glass-panelled facade, leafy shoots, sprouts and microgreens have sprung up from under bright LED lights as part of a subterranean, organic farm.
The concept, known as Metro Farm, uses hydroponic growing trays and an automated tech network to control the underground ecosystem’s temperature, humidity and CO2 levels. The result is a highly productive “vertical” farm that produces some 30kg of vegetables per day at a rate that is 40 times more efficient than traditional farming. In the adjacent cafe, as many as 1,000 customers a day now purchase salads, smoothies and edible flowers grown next door in a full seed-to-table operation.
According to Farm8, the tech startup behind the underground venture, Sangdo Station is just the first of many sustainable urban farming ventures that the company hopes to introduce across South Korea. The company believes that by developing these high-tech ventures in high-density areas, consumers will spend less on food transportation costs, C02 emissions associated with food delivery will drop and people will have a sustainable, year-round alternative to crops increasingly affected by pollution and climate change.
Farm8 is hoping to expand its flagship farm to three more Seoul metro stations later this year. If successful, the innovative venture may not only offer a more sustainable solution to urban farming, but also has the potential to be rolled out in environments where traditional farming isn’t feasible, such as deserts and Arctic climates.
ADDIS ABABA/LONDON, – All eyes will be on the catwalk, but the model behind Ethiopia’s first reality TV modelling competition hopes the show will also shine a spotlight on exploitation in the industry across Africa.
While the #MeToo scandal highlighted widespread sex abuse in fashion, models and non-profits say women and girls pursuing a catwalk career face even greater dangers in developing nations.
Delina Cleo – a model in her late twenties who created the ‘Hidden Beauty of Ethiopia’ show – wants to educate aspiring African models about risks from online scams to sex trafficking.
“This industry can be very dangerous”, she said, referring to an Ethiopian girl whose family sold their house after a fake agency demanded payment to cast her in a production that did not exist. The girl ended up being sexually exploited, Cleo added.
“Families do not have (enough) knowledge to understand (when) it’s a scam,” Cleo said following the recent launch of the show’s second season, which sees about a dozen contestants compete for a contract with a major British modelling agency.
While data is scant, models and anti-trafficking activists say abuse in the sector is rife for African hopefuls – due to a lack of oversight and guidance both on the continent and abroad.
The global industry is becoming more diverse and open to Black and ethnic minority models, said Carole White – co-founder of the London-based agency Premier Model Management – who urged young women and girls to be wary of unscrupulous agents online.
“I believe (false promises and abuses) happen pretty much in all major cities,” said White, whose agency has managed global stars including Naomi Campbell. “It is quite a scammy world.”
Global non-profit Stop the Traffik this year released a report about aspiring models falling prey to sex traffickers in countries ranging from Colombia to Ethiopia to Russia.
“The #MeToo movement played a part in shining a light on how models are exposed to sexual and verbal harassment,” the report said. “What is not discussed is the link between modelling … and the world’s fastest growing crime, human trafficking.”
About 25 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labour – including 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking – according to an estimate by the United Nations’ labour agency.
UNDER THE RADAR
In South Africa, Phuti Khomo – winner of the country’s teen beauty contest in 2002 – said she was concerned about predators persuading young girls to send or pose for naked or lewd photos, then sexually abusing them or posting the snaps on porn sites.
“(Traffickers) try to target the poorest countries with … fewer resources and less education about human trafficking and about the industry itself,” said Khomo, who in 2018 launched an event to connect aspiring local models with Western agencies.
“So much is happening under the radar … and it’s happening throughout Africa,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Ekaterina Ozhiganova, who heads Model Law – a French association that supports models’ rights – said most aspiring young models had little understanding of the lucrative yet thinly regulated sector, and lacked contacts or support.
“Often, underage people receive no training whatsoever,” the Russian model said, urging hopefuls to do their homework and ensure agencies offering work were legitimate. “Usually, you’re thrown into the industry and you’re supposed to find your way.”
The chairman of the British Fashion Model Association, John Horner, said the industry in Britain was raising awareness of predators posing as legitimate agents but that it was “too easy” for them to target and exploit girls and women online globally.
“Girls who have been promised a better life, who are brought into Britain by a slavemaster or slave gangs, probably never even interface with the modelling industry,” said Horner, who is also managing director of Models 1, an agency based in London.
“On an international scale, it’s virtually impossible (to combat this).”
Cleo, who faced accusations of being a scam artist when launching her contest in 2015, hopes she can make a difference.
“This (show) is more than a modelling competition,” she said. “We want to teach the audience. (Girls) just need to do (a lot of) research before they put themselves into any danger.”
ROME, – Berat Kjamili has vivid memories of queuing for days outside a government building in Turkey for papers that would allow him – an 18-year-old refugee from North Macedonia – to legally reside and study in the country.
“There were 1,000 people there and I couldn’t get in. The next day I went at 6 a.m. and still I couldn’t get my papers. The third day, I slept on the street that night (to beat the queue),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The experience led him to build a website where refugees can apply for residency permits. It is now operated by the Turkish government.
Kjamili, 27, is part of a generation of refugees who have set up fintech firms to help other refugees and migrants send money, access paperwork and share information about housing and jobs.
Often working in shops, cafes and factories, refugees have been harder hit by coronavirus-triggered job cuts than citizens in their host countries, U.S. development groups said on Wednesday.
Businesses like Kjamili’s could play a key role in helping refugees to integrate amid a global pandemic that, according to the United Nations, has increased xenophobia and led to a surge in evictions.
Among the world’s 30 million refugees and asylum seekers are many who lack bank accounts and have only intermittent access to Internet and mobile phones.
More than 1 billion people worldwide lack government-issued credentials to prove their identity, which can result in “social, economic, and political exclusion”, UNHCR said in a recent report.
Refugees given ID cards by the United Nations on arrival in a new country have limited ways to partake in the economy, said Hanna Mattinen, a senior officer in the agency’s cash aid team.
“In the vast majority of cases, with this ID… they can’t open bank account, they don’t have access to SIM cards,” she said.
As businesses go cashless and require card payments – a drive hastened by COVID-19 – refugees and migrants could be left “locked out of the system”, said Marta Zaccagnini, Program Manager Europe for Village Capital, an organisation supporting impact-driven start-ups.
A NEW BANK
Roham Soleimani, an Iranian refugee in Berlin, is hoping his company BankeNu – Nu means new in Persian – could help. The 28-year-old is working on a blockchain-based service that would allow people to transfer money from anywhere.
“It’s a big opportunity to help people like us. To give opportunity to people who suffer sanctions, the un-banked, the migrant communities… and offer the services with low fees,” he said.
Soleimani set up a marketing agency that helped secure European wages for Iranian freelance designers back home.
NAIROBI, – Kenyan urban farmer Francis Wachira credits a soil recycling company with keeping him afloat financially during the coronavirus crisis: it helped him to start producing herbs and vegetables on his tiny Nairobi plot.
The locally-owned company, Sprout Organic, mixes animal bone meal, seeds, foliage, dry leaves, twigs and kitchen waste like banana peels, to concoct a composite that is then sold to urban farmers like Wachira to grow food in small spaces.
Wachira, 71, used to make a living by renting out tiny tin shacks he built, but the coronavirus pandemic meant his tenants could no longer pay him.
Now he sells the produce from his plot, such as kale, spinach and herbs, and says he earns around 1,000 shillings ($9.23).
“We are making good money out of this,” he said.
Ted Gachanga, an agronomist who co-owns Sprout, says their product resembles black cotton soil. Worms are usually added to the mixture to help it mature, a process that takes about four weeks.
A 20 kg bag sells at 3,500 shillings. Gachanga said demand had risen by 10% during the pandemic, which has cut incomes and impinged food supply chains.
“People are seeing the need to grow their own produce,” Gachanga said.
Close to 15,000 people in Kenya have been infected by the COVID-19 disease since the first case was reported in mid-March, official data showed. Economic growth has slowed down sharply, with many job losses in sectors like tourism.
Sprout employs three staff, and its owners say that although their technology is not new, they have patented the formula for the composite. They hope to expand production beyond Nairobi to cover other towns.
Washington D.C., – In the shadow of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington distributed food to families in need Friday, as the nation’s capital continues to battle the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today we provided food to hundreds of people who have been impacted by the pandemic,” Joe Dempsey, director of special projects for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA.
“This shows that this crisis is still very much affecting the D.C. area, and it continues to hit struggling families the hardest. But we are committed to meeting our clients’ needs for as long as this situation lasts,” said Dempsey.
The distribution was held in the parking lot in front of the basilica, a Washington landmark and the largest church in North America. In addition to the 500 grocery boxes, Catholic Charities also distributed boxes that contained a hot meal for a family of four.
DC Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who represents the district’s Ward 5, where the basilica is located, praised Catholic Charities for their work in feeding the hungry.
“Here in Ward 5 we have the second highest number of COVID-19 positive cases in the District,” Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie told CNA on Friday.
“A large number of our businesses have had to close temporarily, leaving many of our residents without employment. Catholic Charities has been committed to serving some of our most vulnerable residents in the District and I am immensely appreciative of their continued service during this difficult time,” he added.
According to research done by Northwestern University, Black and Hispanic families are particularly struggling with food insecurity in the wake of the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Approximately 40% of Black and Hispanic families say that they are having trouble feeding their children.
Ward 5 is approximately 56% Black, and about 11% of the ward’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino. About 16% of the residents in Ward 5 live below the poverty line.
These numbers are a stark increase compared to previous years. In 2018, which was the last time a national survey was held concerning food insecurity, 25% of Black households with children and 17% of Hispanic households with children said that they were food insecure. Those figures are now 39% and 37%, respectively.
For white households with children, 22% report food insecurity, which researchers say is more than double the previous figure prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist and the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, told POLITICO that these numbers are “uncharted territory.”
“We’ve never seen food insecurity rates double, or nearly triple–and the persistent race gaps are just appalling,” she said.
As a Grail sister of Tanzania I have had the privilege of ministering in the Maasai community of northern Tanzania, East Africa for many years. We started by educating the Maasai women, and as we lived with them and shared their lifestyle, we gradually learned what their special needs were and what we needed to do. For example, we have started feeding the Maasai children to reduce malnutrition and kwashiorkor due to lack of proper food and treatment.
The Maasai are semi-nomadic herders, who depend on their livestock for wealth, and the milk, meat and blood they provide. Their colorful traditions, customs and dress, and the fact they live near East African national game parks have made them well known among Kenyan indigenous ethnic groups. Most of them are either Catholic or Lutheran. Maasai women respect God, regularly meeting for small community every Sunday and Wednesday and for preparation of song for Sunday.
Presently there are a number of serious issues in Maasai society. For example, our Maasai girls — not just our students but the girls in primary school or younger — are being forced into early marriages. Sister Samba explained to me that the parents want them to get married in order to get their dowry. The dowry comes in the form of cows; in Maasai culture, the more cows you own, the higher your prestige.
Another serious issue is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Sister Deonisia tells us about this. It is a cultural initiation ceremony in which a number of young girls are circumcised. There are many negative consequences to their health, even death from heavy bleeding. Circumcision is a door to early marriage since most are married after the FGM ceremony.
We have kept records, and out of 389 girls we know that received FGM, 146 got married during this COVID-19 “holiday.” We have been working hard to get them back to school, and also we are fighting for the younger girls to get into primary school.
In struggling to get girls back to school, we make use of the police force to catch the parents, on the basis that they are neglecting the rights of their children to acquire an education. Most of the girls who are involved are between the ages of 6 to 13 years old.
Right now, the cases of girl students who were married during the COVID-19 crisis are now at the police court for judgement.
How can these girls be helped? I think the most important ways are:
Girls (students) need to be supported materially with uniforms and learning materials like exercise books, pens and pencils.
They need helpwith school fees to help them learn without worry.
We need to provide these girls with a dormitory because of the long distance from home to school; many girls have been raped on the way to school and have become pregnant.
Security is important when students are at school.
Parents need to be trained through seminars on the importance of a child’s rights to education.
Early marriages and FGM have led Maasai women to bring their girls to our convent in order to save the girls from these practices. As a result, we have started a center for Maasai girls. We have rescued them from FGM and fistula, (often a result of early-age childbirth) and have reduced the rate of death. A good number of Maasai girls have enrolled in the school. We have been so successful that our center for Maasai girls is now too small for the number of girls we serve, and we are trying to get a grant to make it bigger.
Freedom of speech is also an issue for Maasai women. Most men exercise power over women’s lives and personal freedoms; some women even have to get permission to go to town or visit friends.
Overworking is also a problem for Maasai women. In the Maasai community, women are responsible for maintaining the home, for cooking and cleaning, collecting firewood and water, looking after children, and building and repairing their huts.
It is obvious that married Maasai women have a workload that far exceeds that of married men. In a typical day, they clean their houses, cook, look after young babies, and fetch water. As there may be more than one wife in each household, the women share the workload among themselves and may delegate tasks to children and unmarried women in the homestead.
We Grail Sisters are working in more than seven villages, and the Maasai women, men, girls and children have become our friends. We share many things with them, and they tell us their likes and dislikes. They complain to us about some of their traditions: they don’t like FGM or early marriages, and are trying to stop these bad traditions. We are there for them and look forward to helping them improve their lives.
Rome Newsroom, – A hospital boat named after Pope Francis has been delivering medical aid along the Amazon River as rural communities struggle amid Brazil’s devastating coronavirus outbreak.
“This vessel has already done great miracles in the lives of our riverside people, bringing health and hope,” Franciscan Brother Joel Sousa told the Brazilian bishops’ conference news portal.
Since the boat was inaugurated in July 2019, the medical crew has carried out 46,000 medical consultations in the communities along the Amazon River. However, in the face of Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak, the crew has shifted its focus to prevention and testing.
“We couldn’t be out of this fight. We got together, reorganized ourselves in our service so that together we could also fight against COVID-19,” Sousa said.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Brazil hard. With nearly 1.9 million COVID-19 cases, Brazil has the second highest number of recorded pandemic fatalities in the world after the United States.
At least 72,833 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil as of July 14, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced July 7 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Vatican News reported July 14 that Pope Francis has donated four ventilators to Brazil to treat those who have contracted the virus. One of them, sent to a hospital in Marabá, a municipality in the state of Pará, will be “used especially for the Indigenous peoples,” according to the local bishop.
Despite their isolation, communities along the Amazon River have not been shielded from the outbreak. The virus has spread after two cities along the mouth of the river, Belem and Macapa, experienced outbreaks in the spring.
“We are mainly treating flu-like symptoms and mild, outpatient COVID-19 symptoms. The doctor performs the consultations and we also deliver medicines to the local health department,” Sousa said.
The hospital boat is staffed by medical volunteers, crew members, and Franciscan friars. It was founded by the Fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi in the Providence of God, in partnership with their local diocese and the Brazilian government.
The Brazilian Franciscans were inspired to create the floating hospital when Pope Francis visited their healthcare facility during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. During the visit, the pope encouraged Friar Francisco Belotti to expand his religious order’s charitable works into the Amazon region.
The boat, 105 feet in length, contains an operating room and analysis laboratory, and is able to provide a range of medical services, including X-rays, vaccinations, electrocardiogram, mammograms, and ultrasounds. The hospital began treating its first patients Aug. 18.
In a letter marking the boat’s launch on Aug. 17, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the Church as a “field hospital,” said that the Church can also now be seen as a “hospital on the water.”
“Just as Jesus, who appeared walking on water, calmed the storm and strengthened the faith of the disciples, this boat will bring spiritual comfort and calm to the worries of needy men and women, abandoned to their fate,” Pope Francis said.
The River Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world.
Scientists have estimated that 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in places.
The quantity exceeds that measured in other European rivers, such as the Danube and Rhine.
Tiny bits of plastic have been found inside the bodies of crabs living in the Thames.
And wet wipes flushed down the toilet are accumulating in large numbers on the shoreline.
Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, are calling for stricter regulations on the labelling and disposal of plastic products.
They warn that careless disposal of plastic gloves and masks during the coronavirus pandemic might make the problem of plastic pollution worse.
“Taken together these studies show how many different types of plastic, from microplastics in the water through to larger items of debris physically altering the foreshore, can potentially affect a wide range of organisms in the River Thames,” said Prof Dave Morritt from Royal Holloway.
“The increased use of single-use plastic items, and the inappropriate disposal of such items, including masks and gloves, along with plastic-containing cleaning products, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, may well exacerbate this problem.”
The scientists point out that the Thames is cleaner than it used to be with respect to some pollutants, such as trace metals.
What plastics were found in the River?
Many forms of microplastics were found in the Thames, including glitter, microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fragments from larger items.
The bulk of the microplastics came from the break-down of large plastics, with food packaging thought to be a significant source.
“Flushable” wet wipes were found in high abundance on the shoreline forming “wet wipe reefs”.
Study researcher, Katherine McCoy, said, “Our study shows that stricter regulations are needed for the labelling and disposal of these products. There is great scope to further research the impacts of microplastics and indeed microfibres on Thames organisms.”
Where does the plastic come from?
Fibres from washing machine outflows and potentially from sewage outfalls, plus fragments from the breakup of larger plastics, such as packaging items and bottles, which are washed into the river.
Katharine Rowley of Royal Holloway said it’s unclear why there’s such a high density of plastic in the River Thames, but called for people to think about the plastic they use and throw away.
“People can make much more of a difference than they might think,” she said.
What is the plastic doing to wildlife in the river?
Some animals living in the river are ingesting microplastics, including two species of crab.
Crabs contained tangled plastic in their stomachs, including fibres and microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.
“Tangles of plastic were particularly prevalent in the invasive Chinese mitten crab and we still don’t fully understand the reason for this.”
Clams near the wet wipe “reefs” contained synthetic polymers, some of which may have originated from the wet wipes and other pollutants found on the site such as sanitary items.
How do the findings compare with other rivers?
Much of the work on microplastics has been carried out in seas and oceans rather than rivers.
By comparison, the Thames has higher quantities of microplastics than levels recorded in the Rhine in Germany, the Danube in Romania, the River Po in Italy and the Chicago River in the US.
However, levels appear lower than those reported for China’s Yangzte river.
Other scientists previously tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found “microplastics everywhere”.
The latest research was carried out in collaboration with the Natural History Museum and Zoological Society, London.
Dr Paul Clark of the Natural History Museum said, “What our students have shown in this collaboration is that although the Thames is certainly cleaner with regards some chemical pollutants, eg. heavy metals, the River is severely polluted with plastic. And once again our wildlife is threatened.”
The research is reported in two papers in Environmental Pollution and in one paper in Science of the Total Environment.