Amount of waste on UK beaches is falling, national clean-up finds
Author: Responsible Business News / Date: 22 December 2021
75% of ocean littler is still plastic or polystyrene and the government approach not good enough, say campaigners
According to the results of the 2021 Great British Beach Clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the amount of litter thrown away on the UK’s beaches is falling year on year.
This year, the volunteers identified 385 fragments of litter for every 100m of the beach, decreasing from 425 in 2020 and 558 in 2019. Single-use plastic bags were down by 95% in supermarkets since a charge was introduced in 2015, which might elucidate the fall from a high of 13 plastic bags for every 100m of beach in 2013 to just 3 in 2021.
Another piece that dropped out of the top 10 most common types of waste was the plastic cotton bud sticks following a ban in Scotland in 2019 and in England in 2020. Since the beach cleaning began 28 years ago, the average of 6 per 100 metres was the lowest this year and was down from 15 last year.
Nonetheless, the results show that 75% of the beach waste was still plastic or polystyrene, and the government actions to phase out single-use plastic was not good enough; the MCS understood that the outcomes were positive showing that actions taken at a person, local and national level were causing already an impact.
The last beach clean-up took place from 17 to 26 September and had more than six thousand volunteers. Five tonnes of litter from 34 miles were cleared of the UK beaches. The most common items were pieces of plastic and polystyrene, followed by plastic caps and lids, crisp and sweet packets, and cigarette butts.
According to the most complete study to date, plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the oceans. The UK and the US have been producing more plastic waste per person than any other major country.
On the 20th of November, the UK government took another step towards the ban of single-use plastic cutlery, plates, and cups, when they launched a consultation on how to cut litter from plastic sachets, cigarette filters, and wet wipes.
The public consultation had been trailed in August, when the campaigners concluded that the evolution on cutting plastic waste was “snail-paced”, with the EU has already banned these items and others in July. A deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles won’t be in place in England until the end of 2024, 6 years after being recommended by the government.
The head of clean seas at the MCS, Dr. Laura Foster, said: “The UK governments’ current piecemeal approach to single-use plastics policy just won’t cut it anymore. While we’re seeing a downward trend in litter on beaches, we’re still seeing huge volumes of plastic washing up on our shores. Comprehensive and ambitious single-use plastics policies are the quickest way of phasing out plastic from our environment.”
Lizzie Prior, beach watch officer at MCS, completed: “There were changes in lunchtime eating habits, with fewer people in the office and therefore a reduction in single-use lunchtime plastic. But some of the downward trends, such as plastic bags, were occurring before the pandemic.” It means that it is difficult to say how much changes in people’s behaviour during the pandemic had influenced litter tendencies. She informed us that PPE waste was found on one in three beaches, nonetheless, masks were only the 59th most common item.
A representative for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “We’re pleased to see the amount of litter being found on our beaches dropping and the positive impact of our policies such as the single-use carrier bag charge. However, we know there is more to be done.”
According to a poll by Ipsos Mori published last month, climate change, the environment, and pollution are now the British public’s top concerns. Twice as many people indicated the environment and climate, over the economy as the principal concern – this is a poll result that has never been seen before.