The UK’s leading marine charity says the Government must produce plan to tackle beach litter.
Piles of wet wipes are littering our beaches as more people choose to use moist cloths to remove make-up, replace traditional toilet paper and apply fake tan. According to the latest beach litter data collected by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and published today in its Great British Beach Clean report, numbers of wet wipes found on beaches increased by over 50% in a single year!
The charity’s report, which also reveals a 6.4% rise in beach litter between 2013 and 2014, comes as the Government claims that no new action is needed on marine litter and claims it’s doing all it can. MCS says that its annual beach litter report has shown a rising trend in rubbish on UK shores over 20 years so clearly not enough is being done.
“There is an international obligation for the UK Government to take action to reduce marine litter under an EU marine directive. We therefore believe Government needs to produce National Marine Litter Action Plans for England and Wales, similar to those already produced for Scotland and Northern Ireland. There has to be a three pronged attack on marine litter led by new policies and action from Government, new practices from industry and behaviour change from the public,” says MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer, Dr Sue Kinsey.
The increase in the number of wipes on beaches between 2013 and 2014, equates to about 35 of the little squares on every kilometre of coastline cleaned by the charity’s volunteers during the weekend long event last September, which saw 5,349 volunteers clean and survey over 300 beaches. 2,457 bits of litter were collected for every kilometre cleaned and surveyed in 2014 compared to 2,309 in 2013.
MCS Beachwatch Officer, Charlotte Coombes, says the problem is that wipes, often described as flushable, are being put down the loo instead of thrown in the bin. “Our sewerage systems weren’t built to cope with wet wipes. When flushed they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper, and they typically contain plastic so once they reach the sea, they last for a very long time. They can cause blockages in our sewers, and then, everything else that has been flushed down the loo can either back up into people’s homes, or overflow into rivers and seas. Overflows also happen during excessive rainfall, or if the plumbing hasn’t been connected up properly meaning the wrong pipes are heading straight to the sea. That’s when we find sewage related debris, including wet wipes, on the beach.”
MCS says a National Marine Litter Action Plan should address the key sources of marine litter: public, fishing, shipping and sewage related debris, which includes wet wipes. The charity says new measures that need to be taken to tackle the issue include: a nationwide deposit scheme for plastic drinks bottles and aluminium drinks cans – 10% of overall beach litter recorded during the Great British Beach Clean in 2014 – and better disposal/recycling facilities for fishermen, both commercial and recreational – 11% of all beach litter surveyed during last September’s event.
“The latest results from our weekend-long Great British Beach Clean event held between 19 and 22 September show that plastic pieces are once again the most frequently found items on UK beaches,” says Charlotte Coombes. “Mostly these can’t be identified so will almost certainly have been in the marine environment for years, starting off as something much bigger and then slowly breaking down – the problem is they will never disappear completely and research is underway to look at the impact these microplastics could be having on the food chain.”
As always, some pretty strange stuff turned up on our beaches. In 2014, volunteers found a colostomy bag, a plastic hand, part of WW2 sea defences (now in the local museum), a piping gun nozzle, a bra strap, and on one beach, nine pairs of shoes in various sizes.
Beaches in the South West saw a rise of 89% in litter levels, and rubbish on Welsh beaches rose by 46%. It was a better picture in the north of England, where litter levels dropped on both the east and west coasts, and less rubbish was also found on beaches in Scotland.
The public can get involved in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive consultation, which includes marine litter, via the MCS website, www.mcsuk.org