Hakai Magazine


Cutting the Crap

A small group of English cold-water swimmers takes on industry and the government over the misuse of a loophole allowing the discharge of raw sewage into coastal waters.

Authored by

by Aletta Harrison

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Cold-water swimmer Ed Acteson gives a shit about water pollution. Two years ago, this resident of Whitstable, a town on England’s southeast coast, launched SOS Whitstable and a campaign to highlight the dirty joke played on citizens: the dumping of raw sewage into the sea and rivers.

The country’s water companies—privatized more than 30 years ago—too often discharge crap into local waters. In general, sewage systems can occasionally release raw sewage in response to heavy rains, but in the United Kingdom, dumping waste is almost routine. The problem? Lax government oversight and a for-profit system that favors financial gain over infrastructure investment.

Along with at least 300 other community groups, SOS Whitstable has helped move the conversation into the public spotlight. But despite an outcry that has brought politicians, newspapers, and citizens together in protest, the polluting has continued in 2023. What will it take to stop the dumping?