Britain’s beaches blighted by more plastic litter than ever before

May 7, 2008 at 11:55 am

The latest Beachwatch report from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) shows that plastic litter on British beaches has increased by a worrying 126% since 1994. Bags, bottles and other plastic items now account for over 58% of all litter found on UK beaches. Nearly 4,000 volunteers swept 168.5 km of UK coastline to collect data for the report, picking up a staggering 346,000 items of litter as they went.

Plastic litter is not just an eyesore for us: it represents a real danger to wildlife. Over 170 species of marine wildlife, including whales, seabirds and turtles, mistake marine litter for food. This can lead to poisoning and fatal stomach blockages. Animals can also be injured, strangled or drowned if they get caught up in old fishing nets or plastic packaging such as can holders. The RSPB has urged the government to do more to protect marine wildlife by creating a robust network of protected coastal areas.

The MCS says everyone can help reduce the tide of plastic litter by taking simple steps such as taking re-usable bags to the supermarket, re-filling plastic bottles with tap water and disposing of litter responsibly.

While almost all plastic can technically be recycled, the process is complicated by the range of different types of plastic, limited infrastructure and market demand. Around 86% of local authorities in the UK now provide collection facilities for plastic bottles and retailers have recently introduced degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic products.

Several coastal towns are making an effort to ‘Go plastic bag free’ as part of a national movement to reduce plastic waste. Modbury in South Devon claims to be ‘Great Britain’s first plastic bag free town’ after traders and shopkeepers stopped issuing plastic bags in May 2007. Campaigners are hoping that Brighton will soon follow in Modbury’s footsteps and similar efforts in Helston, Cornwall are being supported by Friends of the Earth.

The MCS runs an Adopt-a-Beach initiative to encourage individuals and communities to care for their coastal environment. By joining the scheme, you can adopt your favourite stretch of coast and take part in regular beach cleans and surveys to monitor litter.

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