Litter on UK’s beaches is falling but plastic waste still dominates
The amount of waste washing up on the UK’s beaches is falling year by year, according to the results of the 2021 Great British Beach Clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society.
Volunteers found 385 pieces of litter per 100 metres of beach on average, down from 425 in 2020 and 558 in 2019. Single-use plastic bags have fallen from 13 per 100m in 2013 to just three in 2021. The plastic bag charge introduced in 2015 has cut their use in supermarkets by 95%.
Plastic cotton-bud sticks dropped out of the top 10 most common rubbish in the latest clean-up, following a ban in Scotland in 2019 and in England in 2020. The average of six plastic cotton-bud sticks per 100m in 2021 was the lowest since the beach cleans began 28 years ago, down from 15 in 2020. The MCS said the results showed that actions at a personal, local and national level were having an impact.
But it said 75% of beach litter was still plastic or polystyrene and that the “piecemeal” approach of governments across the UK to phasing out single-use plastic was not good enough.
The beach clean in September saw 6,000 volunteers clear 5 tonnes of litter from 34 miles (55km) of UK beaches. The most common items after plastic and polystyrene were cigarette butts, crisp and sweet packets and plastic caps and lids.
The UK government took its latest step towards banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery and cups in England on Saturday, when it launched a consultation on how to cut litter from wet wipes, cigarette filters and plastic sachets. The consultation had been trailed in August
when campaigners said progress on cutting plastic waste was “snailpaced”, with the EU having banned many items in July.
Laura Foster, at the MCS, said: “The UK governments’ piecemeal approach to single-use plastics just won’t cut it anymore. While there’s a downward trend in litter on beaches, we’re still seeing huge volumes of plastic washing up on our shores.”
The environment, pollution and climate change are now the British public’s top concern, higher than the economy, according to a poll by Ipsos Mori published yesterday. As in previous surveys, green concerns were high across the age, social class and political spectrum.