Plastic waste littering Britain's beaches


The amount of plastic littering Britain’s beautiful beaches is at its highest level since records began, according to the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Beachwatch 2007 survey report published recently.

The MCS Beachwatch 2007 Report shows that plastic litter on UK beaches has increased by a staggering 126% since the annual survey began in 1994. Plastic debris now accounts for over 58% of all litter found on Britain’s beaches, including plastic bags and plastic drinks bottles. Plastic-based cigarette butts are also amongst the most frequently encountered litter items.

Sadly, the tide of plastic litter is not just an unsightly blight on the UK's coastline. Over 170 species of marine wildlife - including seabirds, turtles and whales - have been recorded mistaking marine litter for food - resulting in starvation, poisoning and fatal stomach blockages. In addition, plastic packaging and discarded fishing nets injure, entangle and drown some of Britain’s favourite marine wildlife, including seals and dolphins.

“The results are truly shocking. In the last 10 years, plastic drinks bottles have increased by 67%, plastic bags by 54% and cigarette butts by 44%. Plastics are of particular concern as they could persist in the marine environment for centuries with fatal consequences for marine wildlife” - said Emma Snowden, MCS Litter Projects Coordinator,

“The Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch volunteers remove tons of litter from beaches - and, using the survey data they collect, MCS is raising awareness about this serious situation and the solutions. The plastic litter problem needs to be tackled at all levels - from grassroots through to government - while industry and retail sectors must acknowledge the need to reduce plastic bag use and packaging."

The MCS Beachwatch 2007 Report is based on data collected by almost 4,000 volunteers on 354 UK beaches surveyed in mid-September 2007. Volunteers surveyed 168.5km of coast and removed over 346,000 litter items.

This latest report identifies four key sources of beach litter -

  • recreational & beach visitors (35.3%)
  • fishing litter (13.7%)
  • sewage-related debris/sanitary waste (6.1%) - and
  • shipping litter (1.8%).

The average density of UK beach litter in the MCS Beachwatch 2007 survey was 2,054 items of litter per kilometre - an average of two items for every metre stretch of beach. While MCS lobbies for a national strategy to tackle this extraordinary volume of rubbish washing up on beaches, it also encourages individual responsibility for litter disposal.

The Marine Conservation Society works in cooperation with the Project AWARE Foundation to organise underwater cleanup events. The data from MCS Beachwatch surveys also contributes to the International Coastal Cleanup - involving over 70 countries worldwide - organised by the Ocean Conservancy in the United States.

To download a copy of the summary report - Click Here

To download a summary regional map - Click Here