Beach litter rises 6% around Scottish coasts in just a year, shocking report reveals

Date posted: 30 November 2017

With food and drinks litter accounting for up to 20% of all rubbish found on beaches, the UK’s leading marine charity launches appeal to Scottish Government and others in UK: levies on disposables are needed now

© Jack Holt

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) runs the annual Great British Beach Clean every September and it’s the UK’s largest and most influential beach clean-up and survey where all items found are recorded according to an internationally agreed methodology.

In Scotland beach litter rose by 6% in 2017 compared with 2016 and the country had the fourth highest litter density for a third year in a row. 1,588 volunteers collected a total of 57,961 litter items from 111 beaches – that’s an average of 490 pieces of litter from every 100 metres cleaned.

Too busy to use a bin?

Litter classed by MCS as ‘on the go’ items made up 17% of all litter found on Scottish beaches and 64% of all litter that comes from the public. 83 pieces of ‘on the go ’ litter were found on average per 100m of beaches cleaned and surveyed.

The charity categorises drinks cups, plastic cutlery, foil wrappers, straws, sandwich packets, lolly sticks, plastic bottles, drinks cans, glass bottles, plastic cups, lids and stirrers as ‘on the go’ litter.

MCS says the figures highlight our bad habits when it comes to littering. The amount of litter suggests we’re treating the outdoors as a big dustbin, happy to dump at will rather than keep hold of our litter until we find a bin.

The charity says it’s time for a levy on single-use items that are handed over, free of charge, in their millions when we’re eating and drinking out and about. It says the levy should be imposed on such items as straws, cups, lids, stirrers and cutlery and at each home nation level since environmental levies are a devolved matter.

Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer, says: “Scotland’s 5p single-use carrier bag charge has made a massive difference to the number of plastic bags entering our seas, combined with similar charges elsewhere in the UK, and we believe we will see a similar impact on bottles and cans when Scotland’s Deposit Return System is implemented. If a levy was placed on single use plastic such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids, we’re confident that we’d find fewer of these items on Scotland’s beaches.”

The general rise in litter is overshadowed in Scotland by the staggering figures when it comes to sewage related debris (SRD) - that’s the stuff people are putting down the loo when really they should be putting it in a bin.

SRD went up 40% on Scottish beaches compared to 2016 with wet wipes – where there’s much confusion over labelling of what can and can’t be flushed - increasing by 141%.

The figures from the event, that took place between the 15th – 18th September, revealed that 21% of all Scottish beach litter is from bathrooms, compared to 8% in the rest of the UK.

“No one wants to swim with a flushed wet wipe or make a sand castle out of cotton bud sticks – we can all make a difference for our seas and beaches both for society and wildlife. We need everyone to only flush the 3 P’s down the loo – pee, poo and paper – that’s all! Everything else needs to go in the bin so it doesn’t end up on our beautiful beaches. We also need continued investment to fix unsatisfactory Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs),” says Catherine Gemmell.

The Marine Conservation Society’s beach litter work is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. “The problem of marine litter is of growing concern and is not only unsightly but pollutes our seas and endangers marine wildlife,” Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said. “We are thus pleased to support the Marine Conservation Society’s efforts to get the Government to take action on this issue.”

MCS’s appeal is detailed here.


Actions you can take

  1. Help us stop the plastic tide
  2. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  3. Visit the beachwatch website
  4. Organise a beach clean
  5. Join a beach clean

Did you know?…

Globally, plastic litter has reached every part of the world’s oceans

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter


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