A new campaign calling for ten thousand people to stop paying their wastewater bills, to force companies to end the practice of pouring 11bn litres of raw sewage every year into UK rivers and seas, was launched on 15 November by Extinction Rebellion and local water action groups.
Don’t Pay for Dirty Water
The Don’t Pay for Dirty Water campaign, which targets all of the major water companies, kicked off with a splash, with campaigners swimming beneath the sewage outflow into the River Roding in East London.
The organisers vow to sign up at least ten thousand people to withhold the wastewater or sewerage part of their water bill. By collectively withholding millions of pounds, the boycotters hope to pressure water companies and the government to fast-track infrastructure upgrades and stop diverting ordinary billpayers’ money into massive profits for shareholders while billpayers’ local waterways are poisoned.
Seventeen water companies in England & Wales paid out more than £1.4bn to shareholders in 2022/23. Meanwhile, just one company, Thames Water, dumps nearly 10,000 Olympic swimming pools of untreated sewage into waterways every year and recently announced plans to lay off 300 workers.
Caz Dennett, 52, a research director from Weymouth who is one of the boycotters, said:
It is a total rip-off to keep paying for a service you aren’t getting. Raw sewage was pumped into seas and rivers in England and Wales 825 times every day in 2022. Meanwhile in the same year water company shareholders made £965m. Enough is enough. The sewage isn’t being dealt with properly so I’ve stopped paying for that part of my bill.
More than 200 people that I know of are already boycotting their sewerage bills. This campaign connects boycotters, makes it safer for individuals and more impactful overall.
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If 10,000 people boycott their bills, it will cost the companies millions in just a few months and they will start listening because money is the only language they understand. Together we have power and remember, legally they can’t cut off your water. If you are sick of sewage destroying ecosystems, join thousands taking a stand around the country.
“This has to stop”
A step-by-step process to make the boycott process as safe as possible is laid out on the Don’t Pay For Dirty Water page of the Extinction Rebellion UK website, which includes template letters addressed to regulators and advice as well as a counter that goes up as new people sign on.
Matt Hempstock, 49, a watersports enthusiast and public servant from Bristol, is suffering long-term health problems caused by the level of pollution in the River Avon. He said:
I was kayaking on the River Avon in Bristol when a scratch on my leg became infected by the river’s polluted water, causing severe cellulitis. I ended up in hospital where I was at risk of amputation and could have died, as the cellulitis was progressing into sepsis.
I now suffer from recurring bouts of cellulitis and have to carry antibiotics and wear a compression sock to protect against cuts to my left leg – which is now much bigger than my right leg.
How can water companies be allowed to continue to pump raw sewage into our rivers and seas when they are clearly endangering human lives, destroying ecosystems and wrecking the tourism economy? This has to stop.
Beaches have closed across the UK, and people have become sick from rivers. This country needs to start putting people and nature before profits. Don’t pay for dirty water.
The only way to hold water companies to account
A UK Environmental Audit Committee report states that “a ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, agricultural waste, plastic and persistent chemicals is polluting rivers.” It goes on to say that:
The prevalence of plastic pollution, the presence of persistent chemicals and spread of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in rivers in England are all issues of grave concern. Not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.
According to an Oxford University study, the targets of the 2022 report are unlikely to be met by current company policies and the regulator, Ofwat.
Katy Colley & Julie Wassmer, spokespersons for boycottwaterbills.com said:
We’re thrilled that XR is following in the footsteps of Boycott Water Bills, a website launched in June this year with information and advice gained from those of us who have been withholding payment for up to two years or more.
The response has been astonishing with dissatisfied customers contacting us from all over the UK and we can report that 10 out of the 11 water companies in England and Wales are being boycotted for their inadequate wastewater treatment services. With a regulatory system not fit for purpose we see no other way to hold water companies to account.
You can find out more about the campaign, and get involved, here.
Featured image via Extinction Rebellion
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