The Great British Beach Clean
Being by the sea makes us feel better, and the Great British Beach Clean isn’t just a good day out for people who love, or live near, the coast – it’s great for wildlife and the beach too!
The Great British Beach Clean, now in its 25th year, not only spruces up hundreds of beaches around the coast, but volunteers also record the litter they find, and it’s this aspect that has really helped MCS change policy and behaviours over the last quarter of a century.
The 5p carrier bag charge, a ban on microbeads in wash-off products, consultations on a plastic tax and deposit return schemes, reduction in the use of plastic straws and the banning of lantern and balloon releases – all have come about following compelling evidence gathered over decades of MCS beach cleans.
The 2017 Great British Beach Clean saw almost 7,000 volunteer beach cleaners pick up record amounts of litter from 339 UK beaches - a staggering 718 bits of rubbish from every 100 metres cleaned. That was a 10% rise in the amount of beach litter picked up during the 2016 event.
Beach cleans take place from Cornwall to Cumbria, Denbighshire to County Down, Hampshire to the Highlands and all places in between. The event incorporates the Great Channel Islands Beach Clean and the Great Northern Irish Beach clean.
For the second year running, the Great British Beach Clean in England is being sponsored by Waitrose who are supporting MCS’ year round beach and river clean programme.
Beach litter has steadily risen over the 24 years since MCS began recording it. However, there was some good news last year because the number of single-use plastic bags found on UK beaches almost halved between 2015 and 2016. MCS says this was almost certainly due to the charges at the checkout and shows the impact that behaviour change can have on beach litter.
In 2017, 'on the go' items made up 20% of all litter found on the UK’s beaches and 63% of all litter that comes from the public. MCS categorises cardboard 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'. The charity says the figures highlight the nation’s lazy 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.
“Taking part in the Great British Beach Clean really can make a difference. In previous years when we’ve highlighted increases in dog poo bags and sewage related debris found on beaches, we’ve seen drops in numbers subsequently. Due to the massive increase in wet wipes we found between 2013 and 2015 we were able to launch our ‘Wet Wipes Turn Nasty’ campaign which has resulted in improvements in labelling, removal of plastic from 'flushable' wet wipes in retailers’ own brands, and shown retailers the need for their flushable wipes to pass water industry standards.” says Lizzie Prior, MCS Beach and River Clean Project Officer.
Cleaning and surveying a beach only takes a couple of hours at most. Each beach has a coordinator, who explains how to fill in a simple data form, and then it’s just a case of grabbing a litter picker and a bin bag and filling it up with rubbish!
If you can’t find a beach clean near you, you can organise one, too.
“Beach litter is a serious environmental problem,” says Lizzie Prior. “But the solution is in our hands. We want the 25th Great British Beach Clean weekend to be the biggest ever. The BBC’s Blue Planet II has given the UK public a real understanding of the pollution crisis facing our oceans and people really want to make a difference. The more volunteers we have, the better it’ll be for our seas.”
Tor Harris, Head of Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability at Waitrose, said:
“Our coast is important to all of us so the Great British Beach Clean is a key opportunity to reduce pollution, especially from plastics. We’re really happy to support such a fantastic event and this builds on our environmental commitment to ensure that all our packaging is widely recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2025. We’d love for our customers and Partners (employees) to sign up and organise local beach cleans to improve them for wildlife and all of us.”
Join the The Great British Beach Clean (part of the Waitrose Beach and River Clean-up) and be part of the biggest and most influential fight against marine litter in the UK.
Players of People’s Postcode Lottery also support the Marine Conservation Society beach litter programme.
Sign up to a clean near you at www.mcsuk.org/greatbritishbeachclean or call 01989 566017.