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Britain's ‘Biggest Ever Beach Clean Up’ to Tackle Lockdown Litter

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 14 for life below water includes a commitment to reduce marine pollution. Plastic plays a big part in that, especially as new research has found that many people in the UK have seen a rise in pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic . Join our movement and take action to protect the environment here.

As the days grow lighter, and the weather supposedly gets warmer (albeit, annoyingly slowly), we may very well see more of what has been witnessed in parks across the UK recently as lockdowns ease: fields of abandoned plastic bags, bottles, and cans.

Britain needs to have a chance to have a bit of fun after months in lockdown, but that’s no reason to leave behind anything more than footprints. 

That’s why environmental group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has launched a campaign that embraces a country ready to get outdoors for a change, encouraging people to head outside and join what it describes as the biggest beach clean up Britain has ever seen.

The “Million Mile Clean” aims to inspire 100,000 volunteers to walk 10 miles each while cleaning the places they love. It doesn’t just have to be beaches either. You can log your litter-picking progress along streets, rivers, or mountains too.

SAS wants people to collect plastic waste while walking 10 million miles in total over the next decade. It’s part of an attempt to create a people-powered movement to end plastic pollution on UK beaches by 2030, in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science.

Related Stories June 14, 2018 10 Plastic Pollution Facts That Show Why We Need To Do More

The campaign comes as the group released new research, commissioned from insight agency Opiniumunderlining the extent to which many people have felt overwhelmed by the plastic waste that has increasingly polluted public places over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a survey of 2,000 British adults, more than half (54%), thought COVID-19 had caused a rise in plastic pollution. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds (59%) have seen more waste in their area over the last year, while 51% reported seeing more plastic on beaches than wildlife.

There could be all sort of reasons for the increase — from many venues no longer accepting reusable cups when serving coffee, instead reverting back to single-use plastic, to the number of disposable masks now worn by members of the public, thrown away soon after use.

The Marine Conservation Society reported in November 2020 that it had found personal protective equipment (PPE) on almost a third (30%) of beaches it came across as part of its own annual beach clean.

SAS launched the campaign, which officially kicks off from May 15, with beach art at Cayton Bay in Yorkshire — a 50-metre depiction of a seal trapped in plastic waste, drawn into the sand. 

“The ocean is under threat and we are running out of time to save it,” said Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of SAS. “We want to inspire an army of ocean activists to join the cause and put an end to plastic pollution in the UK.” 

“After more than a year of isolation, social distancing, and reduced physical activity, the Million Mile Beach Clean reconnects communities with the environment and provides numerous benefits to mental health and physical well-being,” he added.

Tagholm said the campaign was a chance for people to really “make a difference” on the environment, urging people to sign up and upload the miles they’re putting in either on the group’s website, or via a Strava group, an app usually used to track distances covered when running or cycling.

Related Stories Nov. 6, 2020 Discarded COVID-19 Masks and Gloves Found on Nearly a Third of UK Beaches

Around the world, 91% of all plastic waste produced is not recycled.

Plastics can take hundreds of years to break down, meaning most waste either ends up in landfill, or elsewhere in the environment, such as in our seas and rivers. Indeed, on the current trajectory of the planet, there will reportedly be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

According to official statistics briefed to UK parliament, 5 million tonnes of plastic is used every year in Britain, with less than a third of that recycled, according to SAS.

“Making the connection between mental health and conservation is key in mobilising communities in the right way and the Million Mile Beach Clean does just that,” said wildlife presenter and biologist Gillian Burke.

She added: “100,000 volunteers, each cleaning 10 miles of beach or river or street or mountain — the impact speaks for itself. It’s ambitious, it’s physical, I’m in!”