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Raw sewage being poured into UK sea

Explainers & Tips

Why is sewage in our seas? Explained

Explainer Series

Published 7/10/2023

If you live near a river or the sea in the UK you’ll no doubt have heard about - and even smelt - the raw sewage being pumped into our waters – but what on earth is it doing there?

In this blog and the below video we explain:

1. Why this is happening

2. The impact it’s having

3. And what you can do about it

1. Why is this happening?

A key issue is that there’s not enough capacity in the sewage system, so when it rains the system starts to overflow and instead of sewage getting cleaned up and treated, it gets put directly into rivers and the sea.

Water companies say sewage overflow is necessary to protect the system and they’re investing in improvements.

But... campaigners argue that even when the system isn’t at capacity - and sometimes when there's not even been any rain - water companies are pouring sewage into our waters because it’s cheaper than treating it.

They point to the fact that between 2016-2021 sewage discharge increased by 2500%, as well as examples of sewage discharge when there's been no rain.

On top of that, and despite the desperate need to fix the system, water companies continue to pay out billions of pounds in dividends and executive salaries. In fact...

  1. Water companies paid their shareholders £1.4bn in dividends in 2022
  2. And the bosses of the top 22 water companies paid themselves £24.8m, including £14.7m in bonuses and benefits. Wow.

2. What’s the impact? 🌊

Sewage in our water is hugely damaging to wildlife and humans alike. It can poison fish, other wildlife and cause toxic algae blooms. As for humans, it can give you e-coli and other nasties, with several reports of people being hospitalised.

3. Finally, what can you do about it? 👊

  1. Make your voice heard by writing to your favourite paper or local MP
  2. Support legal action – for example with the Good Law Project
  3. Get involved – check out groups like Surfers Against Sewage and the Rivers Trust

Still want to go swimming? Good on you - check out our blog and video on how to avoid the sewage and wild swim safely. #TheCJWay

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Much love,

The CJ Team x