Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 10:38 UK

UK beaches 'blighted by plastic'


Jon Kay spoke to Emma Snowden of the Marine Conservation Society

Britain's beaches are being blighted by more plastic rubbish than ever before, a new survey has found.

The Marine Conservation Society's Beachwatch survey used 4,000 volunteers to look for rubbish on more than 350 beaches across the UK last September.

The results show more than 300,000 items of litter were collected.

Plastic litter accounted for more than 50% of the rubbish found, and had increased more than 120% since the survey started in 1994.

Plastic items included bags, bottles and plastic-based cigarette butts.


Emma Snowden, Litter Projects Coordinator at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), said: "Plastics are of particular concern as they could persist in the marine environment for centuries, with fatal consequences for marine wildlife.

"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 volunteers walked about 168km of coast over one weekend.

They found rubbish from beach visitors and fishermen, sewage-related debris and sanitary waste, as well as shipping litter.

Bird entangled in a balloon on a beach

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There was an average of two items of rubbish for every metre stretch of beach in the UK.

Beaches in the south-west of England had the most litter per kilometre.

Worst offenders

Val Robson, co-ordinator of a group of volunteers who picked up the rubbish at the sandy beach at Instow on the north Devon coast, said the worst offenders were the beach-users.

"We found plastic bags, crisp packets, baby wipes and barbeque tins. I don't understand why people use the beaches as a dumping ground. It's very sad. Why can't they take it home?"

But she said she did think people were becoming more environmentally aware.

"I have been coordinating the beach clean for the past 14 years and each year I have more and more volunteers helping out with the beach clean."

Emma Snowden said everyone could help prevent plastic items littering the beaches.

"By taking simple steps such as taking re-usable bags to the supermarket, re-filling plastic bottles with good old-fashioned tap water, and disposing of litter responsibly, including cigarette butts, we can all make a difference," she said.

Personal responsibility

Commenting on the findings, shadow secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Peter Ainsworth, said: "While more parts of the UK now have an unacceptable amount of litter and more of our beaches are strewn with plastic bottles and bags, the government is cutting funding for anti-litter campaigns due to their own financial incompetence.

"Some of the waste may not have been generated in Britain but it's our responsibility to tidy it up."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said litter campaigns are "an important part of the fight against this menace".

She said Defra provides about half of the funding for the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, which has totalled more than 5m-a-year.

However, she stressed that putting litter into bins is "an issue of personal responsibility".

Graph showing the level of beach litter and pie chart showing the sources of beach litter

Britain's seaside rubbish woes
09 Apr 08 |  Science/Nature

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