‘Dirty protest’ lets you send actual sewage to UK government

‘Dirty protest’ lets you send actual sewage to UK government

'The Dirty Protest' trailer

Uncommon Creative Studio

Sewage in our rivers and the sea, quite literally, stinks, but a new international campaign looks to draw attention to the issue by petitioning decision-makers with a document you sign with actual poo (don’t worry, the signature part is done digitally).

The Dirty Protest, created by Uncommon Creative Studio, is described as “a petition against s*** in our ocean signed with s*** from our ocean”, with signatures printed using an ink created from sewage spills.

The campaign’s website reads: “80 per cent of the world’s sewage is dumped untreated into our oceans, suffocating the ecosystem, killing marine animals, seagrass beds and coral reefs; causing serious illnesses from bathing and eating seafood.

“We’ve had enough of all this s***.”

Other stats cited by the project include over 40 per cent of the world’s population lacking access to safe sanitation services, and more than half of coral reefs and almost 90 per cent of seagrass are exposed to wastewater pollution, which makes them more vulnerable to climate change.

In the UK, experts warned this week that most beachgoers could be swimming in sewage due to outdated water forecasting methods.

And in February, comedian Joe Lycett drew attention to the issue in his documentary Joe Lycett vs Sewage, which shed light on his fake podcast Turdcast and a publicity stunt which saw him ‘leak sewage’ into Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock last year.

Back in November, Lycett said: “Last year, according to one analysis, £1.4 billion in dividends was paid out to shareholders of the water companies – that’s a lot of money that could be used to improve the sewage network and reduce spills.

“So I want the water companies to stop paying dividends, and invest that money in improving and solving this problem.”

In that same month, a report from the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage said untreated sewage was dumped into water supplies more than 399,000 times in 2023 (an average of 1,090 times a day) – up from 301,091 spills in 2022 (824 a day on average) according to Environment Agency Figures.

It was also revealed that Thames Water reportedly released around 72 billion litres of sewage since 2020 – the same as 29,000 Olympic swimming pools.

The industry body representing UK water companies, Water UK, had previously apologised for the sewage scandal in May 2023, when chair Ruth Kelly said: “The message from the water and sewage industry today is clear: we are sorry.

“More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of rivers and beaches. We have listened and have an unprecedented plan to start to put it right.”

Wildlife presenter and campaigner Chris Packham is among those supporting The Dirty Protest, with Pemille Weiss, chairwoman of the European Parliament’s water group, being the first to sign the petition.

“I signed my name in s*** to stop untreated sewage from being pumped into our ocean and I need all of you to sign, so we can show every politician that this problem is too big and too important to be ignored,” she said.

Once the petition receives one million signatures, it will be sent to the European Parliament and other intergovernmental organisations.

In a statement to indy100, a spokesperson confirmed Steve Barclay, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, will receive the petition once 100,000 people in the UK have signed it.

“Our focus on the European Parliament is because poo doesn't care about borders. One nation could sort out their sewage issue, and still be harmed by other nations, so we need intergovernmental organisations to act, to bring about real change.”

When asked about the safety of using actual sewage as ‘ink’, they added: “We are working with our partners Oceans Sewage Alliance, Renasys and Rent Hav to collect samples and sterilise them at their labs, ensuring the ink contains ocean sewage, but it is safe for people to handle.

“We have already tested a small batch and can confirm it is safe, so once we reach the needed amount of signatures in each country … we will make enough ink to be delivered to the relevant parliaments.”

Last month it was reported that Barclay could soon block bonuses paid out to water company chiefs if they are polluting rivers, lakes and the sea, with the environment secretary saying: “Tougher action is needed to address poor performance by water companies, which is why I am pleased [regulator] Ofwat is going further today on bonus payments.

“In cases where companies have committed criminal breaches there is no justification whatsoever for paying out bonuses. It needs to stop now.”

Yet Bloombergreports this week that the Treasury has “no plans” to block dividends “over illegal pollution events”.

Sign up to our free Indy100 weekly newsletter

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

The Conversation (0)