Sewage pollution: facts & figures

From the safety of our swimming beaches to the health of our river systems, the UK’s waterways are in a bad way.

  • 584,001

    discharges of raw sewage into UK waterways in 2023 alone

  • 75%

    of UK rivers pose a serious risk to human health

  • 590

    reports of sickness after bathing linked with a sewage discharge in the area

Water quality in numbers

Read our latest Water Quality Report

The health of the ocean and rivers has never been worse. Polluted waters represent a major threat to our health, the welfare of our wildlife, and the long-term future of our ecosystems. We believe it is a human right to expect to be able to swim, surf, paddle and bathe in safety without getting sick. And if you care about the UK’s natural environment, it’s time to take a stand and demand a cleaner, fresher future for our waterways.

Our waterways are polluted by a chemical cocktail of sewage, agricultural run off and contaminants from roads, urban developments and landfill. One of the main source of sewage pollution is through Sewer Overflows which include Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) and pumping stations. Water companies are legally allowed to discharge untreated wastewater through sewer overflows during periods of heavy rain, but we’ve found they are being used on an alarmingly routine basis.  

The UK’s antiquated, outdated sewerage system is in a terrible state. It cannot cope with the combined problems of increasing population, urbanisation and climate change. In 2022 there were over 399,864 discharges of untreated sewage into UK rivers. 

Appallingly, the UK’s water users are as likely to become ill from seawater as they were in the 1990s, with conditions ranging from sore throats and upset stomachs to serious illnesses like gastroenteritis, hepatitis and E. coli. According to the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, people who swim or bodyboard in UK waters regularly are three times more likely to have antibiotic resistant E. coli in their guts.

Find out more.