Decade long study of beach
litter finds sharp rise in litter
RESEARCHERS from the University of
Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory have studied the findings from beach
litter surveys carried out over a ten year period by volunteers for the Marine
Conservation Society's Beachwatch programme. They found that some types of
litter increased significantly over the period, and recommend that urgent action
should be taken to tackle them.
Data for 2.4 million items of litter collected through over 73,000 volunteer
hours during the period 2005 to 2014 were studied. To define statistically
significant trends in litter levels, the researchers took into account
variations in numbers of people taking part in surveys, the amount of time spent
carrying out each survey, and differences in the lengths of beaches covered by
They found that, while overall quantities of litter recorded by volunteers
showed no statistically significant change over the decade, several types of
litter had increased. These include small plastic fragments, plastic food
packaging, wet wipes, polystyrene foam, balloons and large fishing nets.
There were clear variations in litter levels between regions. The beaches of
South West of England and South Wales were observed to have the highest
abundance of litter items, whilst beaches to the North and West of Scotland had
the lowest. The South West of England and South Wales exhibited the highest
levels fishing litter and food and drinks packaging, while Eastern England
showed the highest numbers of wet wipes.
The majority of material was identified as being of land based origin, mainly
from public littering.
Sarah Nelms, a PhD researcher from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and University of
Exeter, said:- "Our finding that the majority of beach litter originates
from the public is very concerning and indicates a need for better education on
the consequences of dropping rubbish. Clean seas and beaches are hugely
important for the environment and the economy as well as our own health and
Laura Foster, Head of Pollution at the Marine Conservation Society said:-
"This independent study has clearly identified a rise in several litter items,
such as food and drink waste and wet wipes found on British beaches. MCS is
seeking to address these sources of litter by running targeted campaigns to
establish bottle deposit schemes, and to raise awareness with the public and
retailers that 'Wet Wipes Turn Nasty.' Governments, through developing litter
strategies, can be better informed by studies such as these to put effective
measures together to reduce litter."
The researchers concluded that organised citizen science programmes such as:-
'Beachwatch,' which define a sampling methodology and record effort, provide a
valid and effective means of monitoring marine litter. They also provide a
highly cost effective method of collecting data on a large scale and engaging
citizens in an issue that affects us all.
The research is published in Science of the Total Environment