By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / director: Dan Flanders
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ellie Winstanley
Editor: Jack Stevens, Joshua Douglas
Designed and built by paddle boarder Lizzie Carr - the rubbish raft was predominantly made out of plastic drinks bottles collected from UK canals.
Its purpose? - to highlight the amount of rubbish that ends up in the UK’s waterways and to encourage the public and local government to tackle the problem head on.
It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down and the average person gets through 200 a year - a total of 13 billion plastic bottles a year in the UK alone.
Lizzie took up paddle boarding on Britain’s canals as part of her recovery after being diagnosed with cancer.
The 30-year-old explains: “I started paddle boarding about two years ago and was really appalled by the amount of plastic and rubbish I was seeing.
"I remember in particular seeing a bird's nest made up of as much of plastic as twigs. On the one hand it was really resourceful of the birds but on the other it shows the stark reality of what we’re doing, choking our canals and waterways.”
Spending four days in ‘rubbish hotspots’ Tamworth, Coventry, Stoke on Trent and Manchester, Lizzie bagged up as many drinks bottles and other discarded rubbish as she could before contstructing them into the raft.
She then planned to paddleboard down a section of the River Trent.
Lizzie said: “Plastic bottles were everywhere, you couldn’t get away from them. There were lots of plastic bags, dummies, a lot of kids' toys, things like frisbees, traffic cones, trolleys, a couple of scooters, quite a lot of clothes and shoes, even plant pots with the plants still in them. Genuinely kitchen sinks - you’d find that sort of thing in there.
I don’t think anything can surprise me anymore.”
The ‘rubbish hotspots’ were identified in Lizzie’s previous challenge, back in May this year, where Lizzie paddle boarded 400 miles across England’s canals and waterways, mapping out the plastic pollution as she went.
She said: “I plotted every single piece of plastic that I saw along my way to create a map showing what the plastic problem is like across the whole country.”
Taking just over three weeks to complete, Lizzie carried her belongings onboard, and lived off ration packs that she cooked up each night.
Lizzie said: “The biggest strains on my body was the repetitive movements after 22 days in the water, it just got quite tiring. On about day 15 I developed carpel tunnel so I couldn’t actually hold on to the paddle properly. I found that really tough.
"When you’re on the water for 10-12 hours a day and some areas are really remote, loneliness does start to kick in, and becoming your own source of motivation can be challenging.“
In her latest challenge the biggest test was knowing whether or not the raft would float – and then if it would support Lizzie’s weight.
She explained: “It was quite nerve wracking. I wasn’t sure it was going to happen.
"It started to drop to one side and I could feel the water coming in and it was really hard to paddle, especially with the wind. But now I feel really happy with it and am proud of all the team.”
London and Rio Olympic canoe slalom silver medallist Rich Hounslow, who used to train on the UK’s canals growing up, helped Lizzie collect together the 14 sacks of rubbish, while Lizzie’s boyfriend, Russell, helped to assemble the plastic bottle raft.
Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 26, Lizzie took to the water as therapy and a way of aiding recovery.
She said: “I fell in love with paddle boarding. I enjoyed being on the water and being able to get fit again but also it was a great place to gather my thoughts. It was peaceful and calming and being out on the water gave me a real sense of perspective."
“The canals and rivers were there for me to help through my health. They were a constant source I could rely on to make me feel good - physically and mentally. Seeing the pollution and rubbish in them is sad: it’s not a nice experience for anyone paddling on it or for the wildlife that have to live with it.
"This challenge is my way of giving back.”
Lizzie’s campaign was applauded by the Canal & River Trust's National Environment Manager Peter Birch.
He said: “Canals and rivers are amazing places and by working with local communities and with people like Lizzie, we can really make a difference.
“Litter - especially plastic - is a real problem for us and the more we can get the message out that throwing it away is unacceptable, the better our waterways will be for the millions who use them.”