How You Can Protect Our Waterways in 5 Easy Steps

The UK is lucky enough to have 2,000 miles of waterways, including canals and rivers. These pass through cities, skirt around homes and offices and meander into our scenic countryside.

Waterways provide us not only with a place for recreational activities such as walking or kayaking but also host rich biodiversity, with 30% of our waterways are being recognised as having special environmental value.

It is therefore paramount that we look after rivers and canals to ensure they are kept clean for future generations to come. Unfortunately, not all water ways are respected, and litter is often seen floating down our local rivers. Follow these 5 top tips to protect our waterways.

Ensure your building’s drainage is set up properly

Around 500,000 UK properties are thought to have drain misconnections. This means that sewage water could be ending up in our rivers without being treated.

Buildings constructed after 1920 usually have two drainage paths. One being foul water, which will go to sewage facilities, be decontaminated, and sent to water ways. The second path being surface water drainage which will go straight to a water way i.e. a river without being treated. This is supposed to be for when there is extra rainwater runoff, which would not harm local water ways.

However, some properties will have their drainage paths mixed up. This might be the case if you have a new bathroom fitted or an extension to your building.

Misconnections may result in sewage or chemicals such as dishwasher detergents effecting wildlife in local water ways. This can have an impact on public health.

As a facilities manager or homeowner, it is paramount that you check the building’s drainage is properly set up. It is the duty of the owner of the building to ensure this is in place properly.  The Environmental Act 1990 has made misconnections a legal non-compliance. If not rectified after receiving a notice from the council, there could be fines and even imprisonment.

Protect our waterways by getting hold of your building’s drainage maps and ensuring a specialist verifies your building’s drainage is set up correctly.

Be mindful of what you put down the drain

Hazardous chemicals and oil-based paints should never be put down the drain. This is because they will damage pipes and harm the environment. They also should not be placed in the bin.

Instead paints and chemicals should be disposed of in the following manner:

  • For businesses

Find a licenced hazardous waste mover on the UK Government website. They will provide you with a hazardous waste consignment note on collection showing that the waste will be disposed of correctly.

  • For householders

The City of London authority operates a household hazardous waste collection and disposal service for residents on behalf of most of the London Boroughs.

It only collects boxed chemicals and paint. You are entitled to three collections of 50L of containers per rolling year.

Chemicals and paint tins must be put into cardboard boxes for collection. Go onto your local council’s website ad search for hazardous waste collection. This is a link for Islington’s service.

In addition, oil and grease should never be put down the drain. This is not only because is blocks your building’s pipes but it also feds thefatberg, which is a piece of giant organic matter which amalgamated in London sewers. This caused a plethora of issues and had to be dismantled with axes and high-pressure hoses. The formation of fatbergs is largely caused by our excess in consumption and throw away culture. For offices that have catering on site there are oil companies that will provide your oil and collect it once used. This limits vehicles movements and reduced the number of waste containers too. For example,  Olleco provide this service.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health – COSHH

COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. Ensuring you keep on top of all the chemicals you or your organisation use will mean that they are purchased, used, and disposed of safely. This will safeguard our waterways. COSHH is also a legal requirement.

For each chemical used you must find a safety data sheet. Each Safety Data Sheet that is kept is required to have a section that explains measures to take in the case an accident occurs. This explains safety precautions when a chemical may be spilled or released into the air.  Describes the best clean-up procedures and recommends necessary personal protective equipment for cleaning up spills.

It is important to follow instructions on how to dispose of chemicals correctly. There is potential to cause harm to humans, waterways and the environment if this is not done correctly.

Within each safety data sheet, ‘section 6 Accidental Release Measures’ will detail:

– Personal Precautions.

– Spill Clean Up Methods.

In case of an accident or a spill, please check the safety data sheet to see the best way to deal with it. Also please report the spill.

Keep on top of legislation


It is important to be aware of the appropriate environmental legislation in place guiding us as individuals and businesses to act accordingly.

The Water Industry Act 1991 regulates discharges to the foul sewerage system and makes it an offence to discharge trade effluent to a public foul sewer or a private foul sewer that connects to a public sewer, without prior consent.

Trade effluent is defined as liquid waste discharged from premises being used for a business, trade or industry, except domestic sewage and clean uncontaminated water.

Follow our monthly legal updates for more information on changing legislation.

  • Raise awareness

Once your housekeeping is in order it is time to communicate to those using the building. Organise awareness events or days about the importance of keeping our water ways clean and following best practice.

An effective way to help others understand is to spend a day volunteering at your local river or water way litter picking. You will be surprised with how much rubbish ends up in our rivers. This could be from rainwater washing the contents of overflowing bins into rivers, boats discarding waste, items going in the wrong drains or people throwing litter straight into rivers.

These rivers end up in the sea, which is one of the contributors to having 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea. 

What will you to do protect our waterways? We would love to hear from you.

At Green Element we help our clients with the 5 points above. Get intouch today if you would like to hear more.


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