Ever-increasing beach litter is arriving on every wave and gust of wind, say the MCS

What do half a TV, a French bullet-proof vest and an unopened pack of bacon have in common? 

Answer: They were all cleared from UK beaches during a single weekend last September.

A total of 223,405 bits of litter were bagged up by volunteers and removed as part of the Beachwatch Big Weekend 2013, organised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
The UK’s leading beach cleanup and survey has now been running for 20 years and over the two decades the amount of litter found on our beaches has been steadily increasing.

The 20th anniversary clean up, which took place between 20 and 23 September 2013, saw 2,309 items of litter found on every kilometre cleaned – the highest in Beachwatch history.
MCS says that in 20 years 59,493 volunteers have taken part in Beachwatch Big Weekend, removing 5,528,399 pieces of litter from 3,080.5km of coastline.
MCS beachwatch officer Lauren Eyles said: ‘This is a disgusting tide of litter which is threatening the safety of beach visitors both human and animal.

‘It’s coming in from the sea, being blown from the land or simply being dumped and dropped.

‘After 20 years of campaigning it’s disheartening that in 2013 we are seeing worse litter levels than ever.’
MCS Beachwatch volunteers record where the litter they find comes from to help the charity campaign to stop it getting there in the first place.
Here’s where the litter recorded last September came from:
Public – 39.4% This is all the stuff littered by people – we drop it intentionally, leave it behind accidentally, or it arrives on the beach carried on the wind or in rivers.
Fishing – 12.6% Includes commercial and recreational fishing stuff – line, nets, weights, floats.
Shipping – 4.5% This is all the stuff that gets dropped, lost or thrown overboard from small craft to massive cargo ships.
Sewage Related Debris (SRD) – 4.3% The really nasty stuff – bits we put down the loo but shouldn’t – cotton bud sticks, tampons, nappies and the like.
Fly-tipped 0.9% People use some beaches like the local tip – fly-tipping things like furniture, pottery and ceramics.
Medical – 0.2% Inhalers, plasters, syringes – stuff you really don’t want your kids picking up.
Non-sourced – 38.1% All the bits and bobs that we can’t really identify and so don’t know where it comes from – generally small things or damaged stuff.
Lauren says 2013 was a vintage year for finding strange things on beaches: ‘As well as half a TV, a French bullet-proof vest and a pack of bacon, there was a brass candlestick, some plastic bird feet, a birdcage, a bath plug, half a canoe and a set of dentures!’

Top of the finds was once again plastic pieces. These are tiny bits of plastic that have broken off larger items or have been in the sea for possibly decades and become smaller and smaller.
Lauren added: ‘Plastic is a real issue for our oceans and beaches.

‘This year we also picked up lots of lids and caps. However, despite it being a really warm summer, we saw less crisp, sweets and lolly wrappers and fewer plastic bottles.

‘There’s continued good news though for Sewage Related Debris (SRD) – there’s still less of it about after we asked people, in 2011, to stop flushing things down the loo that should go in the bin.’

Worst beaches for litter

Regionally, beaches in the North West of England had almost double the amount of litter per kilometre than the national average at over 4,000 pieces, whilst the South West, which normally has high litter levels, had well below the national average at just over 1,750 pieces per kilometre. Litter on Welsh beaches increased by 60% between 2012 and 2013 with almost 4,500 bits of rubbish per kilometre.
MCS says urgent steps must be taken to reverse the rising tide of beach litter. During June it will be launching its Marine Litter Action Network which will be tasked with changing behaviour in a variety of areas from the plastics industry to manufacturing, retail to shipping.
Marine Litter Action Network meetings and workshops will take place between June 2014 and June 2015.

MCS will be running beach cleans and surveys around the UK coast this Spring and Autumn, and the charity is calling on the public to take part and make this the biggest year of beach cleans and surveys ever.

The first big event will take place at hundreds of beaches between 24th and 30th April. You can find out more and register at www.mcsuk.org/foreverfish