Unacceptable volumes of plastic water bottles littering London and the Thames have lead the city’s administrative body, the London Assembly, to call for the introduction of deposit return schemes (DRS) and more public drinking water taps.

Plastic bottles make up 10 per cent of all litter found in the Thames whilst single-use plastic water bottles make up nearly half of all plastic bottle waste collected in the Thames. Moreover, research into the river’s flounder population found that three quarters of the fish had consumed plastic.

The announcement follows the Government's first-ever Litter Strategy launched earlier this week. As part of the new scheme to tackle the cost of cleaning up rubbish in England, litter louts could be fined £150, including those throwing litter from cars.

The London Assembly’s Environment Committee's report published today, Bottled Water’, makes recommendations to reduce the effects of the environmental impacts of plastic water bottles, including providing tap water as an alternative and the introduction of recycling schemes such as DRS. Nationally, London consumes the greatest amount of plastic bottled water per capita and has the lowest recycling rate in the UK. The report cites the example of Germany, where 99 per cent of plastic bottles have been recycled since 2008 following the introduction of a DRS in such places as supermarkets.

The report recommends that the Mayor should explore the feasibility of a DRS in London, with a view to trialling a nationwide scheme. A DRS would offer an incentive for Londoners to return plastic bottles by adding a reclaimable amount to the price of bottled drinks.

It suggests that the Mayor should encourage community water refill schemes in which Londoners can fill up water bottles for free at participating venues and that more water refilling stations should be installed across the London transport network.

Another idea was the promotion of apps that help consumers locate businesses willing to provide free water refills.

Environment Committee Chair, Leonie Cooper, said: “Plastic waste is out of control in London. It litters our parks, pollutes the Thames, harms marine life, and adds waste to London’s landfill sites, which may be full by 2025.

"We have to turn the situation around," she continued. "Firstly, Londoners need an alternative to buying bottles of water - this is a crucial part of the solution. Tap water needs to be more readily available. Secondly, we need to improve our recycling of plastic bottles. Currently, far too many end up in landfill or in the natural environment and London boroughs have some of the worst recycling rates in the whole of the UK.

"Electors heard Sadiq Khan pledge to be the 'greenest Mayor London has ever had’, now it’s time to fulfil that promise by addressing our thirst for plastic bottled water,” said Cooper.

The Mayor is shortly to announce his Environment Strategy for the city.

Bruce Bratley, CEO and Founder of London recycling business First Mile disagrees with the proposals. He believes that the proposed measures were unnecessarily complex: “Plastic bottles are clogging up the Thames because municipal recycling bins on the streets and in parks are low in number, inconsistent in design and there’s confusion about what can go into them,” he said. “Recycling doesn’t have to be so complex; not only does the UK have the technology to separate plastic easily in mixed recycling, but we are quickly finding ways to recycle more than we ever have before. In my opinion, better services coupled with better education and communication will help to solve this issue. Ultimately, only when recycling is simple will absolutely everyone recycle their plastic water bottles. If a ‘money back’ scheme is introduced it will need to be easy to claim and provide an incentive for people to act on it.

Bratley continued: “Every generation is meant to be greener than the last so a sense of accountability for the environment amongst individuals and businesses must be instilled. It’s not just the Mayor that needs to change people’s behaviour in regards to recycling, but everyone from environmentalists to business leaders, to ensure that London lives up to its environmental responsibility now.”