Number of plastic bags on UK beaches nearly halved

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has reported the lowest number of plastic bags found on British beaches in 10 years. 

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Number of plastic bags on UK beaches nearly halved
Leatherback turtles – which arrive in British waters during summer months to feed – can be particularly vulnerable to litter in the seas, as they can mistake plastic bags for their jellyfish prey, which can result in their death. © Herve06 / iStock

 

Following on from the Great British Beach Clean weekend that took place in September, the MCS’s Great British Beach Clean report has been published.

Although it is clear from the data contained in the report that there is still much work to be done to clean up the nation’s beaches, there were some positive findings to celebrate, with the decrease in the number of plastic bags found heralded as a major success.

On average, just under seven plastic bags were found per 100 metres of coastline cleared in 2016, compared with 11 bags the previous year — a reduction of almost 40 per cent. 

The conservation charity credits this trend with the recently implemented 5p charge on single use plastic bags.

The charge came into effect in Wales in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013, Scotland in 2014, and England in October 2015.

Overall, since the charge was introduced, the number of plastic bags found on UK beaches has fallen by 22 per cent.

“This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations,” commented Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Manager.

“It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment. Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had.”

Around 6,000 volunteers cleaned 364 beaches around the UK in this years’ operation, picking up 268,384 individual pieces in a single weekend.

In England, the number of litter found was down by 10 per cent from 2015, and 18 per cent down in Scotland. However in Wales there was a 16 per cent increase in litter since 2015, and a nine per cent increase in Northern Ireland.

Overall across the UK, there was a decrease of four per cent in the amount of litter found as compared to last year.

Although the amount of litter on our beaches was found to be down on last year by a small amount, with plastic bags greatly reduced, the report also revealed less positive news.

The number of balloons on beaches was found to have increased by over 50 per cent on last year, and drinks related litter – such as containers, caps, and lids – had risen by four per cent.

To tackle this, the MCS is campaigning in Scotland for a bottle return system to be introduced, which they hope to eventually see implemented across the UK in a bid to bring down the number of plastic bottles found on beaches across the country.

The report also highlighted an increase in the number of wet wipes found. The MCS state that they are currently working to change misleading labelling on wet wipe packaging, to help prevent people from flushing the wipes down toilets.

The next beach clean takes place from 15-18 September 2017.

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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