Legacy Of Plastic Litter Clogs Britain’s Beaches

Legacy Of Plastic Litter Clogs Britain’s Beaches

ROSS-on-WYE, England, June 3, 2013 (ENS) - Plastic pieces made up almost 65 percent of all the litter found on British beaches during a single weekend last September, according to the latest annual Beachwatch Big Weekend Report by the nonprofit Marine Conservation Society.

The amount of plastic on British beaches in 2012 rose by three percent compared to the year before, states the MCS report, released May 14.

From September 14-17 last year, 3,366 volunteers surveyed nearly 240 beaches, covering just over 90 kilometers (56 miles).

The volunteers collected 181,978 items of rubbish and filled almost 1,800 rubbish bags.

Beaches in Kent, Dorset, Devon, East Sussex and Yorkshire were found to be the most littered as campaigners accused the government of "empty promises."

The cleanup volunteers found that coastlines like Tynemouth and North Tyneside and marine life are struggling under a load of discarded plastic bags, which Britain chose in May not to ban under EU law.

Britain objected to a fine that Italy wanted to impose on violators of its 2011 plastic bag ban. Britain claimed that since single-use plastic bags are not outlawed by the EU, they cannot be banned by any member state.

Italy introduced the ban in response to studies showing that 73 percent of the trash settling on the sea floor off the Italian coast was plastic bags.

"While we are determined to tackle the blight caused by discarded carrier bags, the proposed Italian scheme is illegal under EU packaging laws," a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told "The Telegraph" newspaper.

Each household in the UK uses roughly 400 plastic bags every year. In 2012, Marine Conservation Society volunteers found 4,092 plastic bags during the cleanup weekend.

Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Officer, says the continuing rise in beach litter is worrying, but the fact that much of it is plastic and unlikely to break down is even more concerning.

"As we continue to embrace the concept of a throwaway society it's no surprise that plastic dominates the litter we find," said Eyles.

"Over the last few years we have seen a drop in the number of cigarette butts we've found on our beaches but this year that trend has totally reversed. That could be a result of more people smoking outside following the ban on smoking in public places," she said. "It's likely that more people are dropping butts outside rather than disposing of them in ashtrays."

Figures from the Beachwatch Big Weekend 2012, reveal the number of litter items per kilometer has risen sharply and is at its highest since 2008.

Just over 2,000 pieces of litter were found per kilometer compared to 1,741 pieces the year before.

Beachwatch is part of the International Coastal Clean-up which takes place in 180 countries and regions worldwide over the same weekend every September. MCS Beachwatch is the only UK clean-up to feed data directly into this global event.

"Despite last summer being seen as a wash out by many with heavy rain in many places, it appears those people that did visit our beaches left behind a lot of personal litter," said Eyles.

"Sweet wrappers, ice cream wrappers and plastic drinks bottles failed to find their way into rubbish bins and ended up being dropped and left behind. This year's figures point to people becoming less bothered about littering," she said.

Eyles sees some progress being made, such as the single use carrier bag levies introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland.

But she says more needs to be done, and environmental charities, regulators and devolved administrations must set aside their differences and join forces in the fight against plastic litter.

MCS says the amount of rubbish the volunteers found "seems to indicate that decades of various anti-litter campaigns now need to be re-invigorated for a new generation."

The 2012 Beachwatch Big Weekend Report is online at: http://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/pollution/beachwatch/2012/Beachwatch_summary_2012.pdf

This year's Beachwatch Big Weekend is set for September 20-23.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Tynemouth Coast. Credit: Glen Bowman. Uploaded to flickr.com. Licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)