Surge in UK beach litter – levels rise by 10% in a year

Beach litter levels in 2017 were found to be 10% higher than the previous year, with single-use plastic the most commonly found item, according to the UK's largest annual beach clean up.

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The Great British Beach Clean, conducted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), revealed that food and drinks litter accounted for up to 20% of all rubbish found on beaches.

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In response to the findings, the marine charity has launched an appeal to the government, urging for a levy on disposables.

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The survey records litter found on a 100-metre stretch of each beach, creating a focussed picture of the UK’s beach litter ©Jack Holt

“Our beach clean evidence shows a shocking rise in the amount of litter this year. Our oceans are choking in plastic. We urgently need a levy on single use plastic as a first step,” said MCS’ CEO Sandy Luk.

This year’s Great British Beach Clean – which took place between the 15 and 18 September 2017 – saw 6,944 volunteers pick up record amounts of litter from 339 UK beaches. Using an internationally agreed methodology, an average of 718 bits of rubbish were recorded from every 100 metres cleaned, a 10% rise from 2016. 

The MCS found that 20% of all litter found was ‘on the go’ items such as drinks cups, plastic cutlery, foil wrappers, straws, sandwich packets, lolly sticks, plastic bottles, drinks cans, glass bottles, plastic cups, lids and stirrers.

Volunteers recorded an average of 138 pieces of ‘on the go ‘ litter per 100m of beach.

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The Great British Beach Clean is the UK’s largest and most influential beach clean up ©Jack Holt

South East England had the highest litter density, logging 1092.5 items/100 metres, a 46% increase from last year. Meanwhile, despite recording the lowest litter density in the UK (253 items/100 metres), the Channel Islands saw the highest litter levels in the last 10 years with a 26% increase from 2016.

It’s thought that the rise in beach rubbish is the result of bad littering habits, and suggests that some members of the public are happy to drop their waste rather than wait for a bin. 

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The MCS is urging the government for a levy on disposables ©Natasha Ewins

The charity says it’s time for a levy on free-of-charge single-use items, such as straws, cups, lids, stirrers and cutlery, that are handed out in their millions from food and drinks businesses.

“The 5p single-use carrier bag charge has made a massive difference to the number of plastic bags entering our seas. If a levy was placed on single use plastic such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids, we’re confident that we’d find fewer of these items on our beaches,” says Lizzie Prior, MCS Beach and River Clean Project Officer.

“The problem of marine litter is of growing concern and is not only unsightly but pollutes our seas and endangers marine wildlife,” added Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, who support the MCS. “We are thus pleased to support the Marine Conservation Society’s efforts to get the Government to take action on this issue.” 

Get involved
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Budleigh Salterton ©Andrew J Brown

There are lots of ways to get involved all over the UK. Why not try The Plastic Challenge? Or join a beach clean near you? 

For more information on the MCS’s appeal, visit the marine charity’s website

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Main image ©Jack Holt