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Environment

'Shocking' Rise of Litter on Britain's Beaches — and 20% Is From 'On-the-Go' Food and Drink

The amount of litter washing up on Britain’s beaches has risen by 10% in the past year alone — an increase that campaigners described as “shocking”. 

More than 7,000 volunteers turned out for the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) annual beach clean, which monitors the amount of rubbish on 340 UK beaches. 

A lot of the rubbish is plastic, broken down into small pieces by the sea, which birds and fish often mistake for food. 

But 20% of the litter is from “on-the-go” food and drink packaging, including cups, cutlery, plastic bottles, coffee stirrers, and sandwich packets. 

Take action: Fight Waste to Protect Our Oceans

“Our beach clean evidence shows a shocking rise in the amount of litter this year,” said MSC chief executive, Sandy Luk. “Our oceans are choking in plastic. We urgently need a levy on single-use plastic as a first step.” 

Lizzie Prior, beach and river clean project officer at the MCS, added: “We are concerned we are continuing on this upwards trend. Plastic never goes away — it does not decompose. It just goes to smaller and smaller pieces and becomes much more harmful for our marine environment.” 

MCS is calling on the government to urgently introduce a charge on single-use plastic items — like straws, cups, and cutlery.

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Campaigners pointed to the dramatic drop — 85% — in the use of plastic bags after the 5p charge was introduced in 2015 as evidence that a plastic tax is a seriously effective option. The number of bags found on beaches has followed, down by 40% since 2014.

“It is really fantastic to see that small charge completely changed people’s behaviour,” she added. “A levy [on other single use plastic] would be a fantastic next step."

Volunteers during the clean — which has gathered data consistently over the past decade — collected an average of 718 pieces of rubbish every 100m this year.

2017 saw the second highest amount of litter in the past decade, following a peak in 2014 that is believed to have been a result of particularly severe storms. 

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South East England had the highest amount of litter, with 1,092 items per 100m of beach — up 46% from last year. South West England was second, with 1,036 items per 100m.

More than 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year, and by 2050, it is predicted that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

Broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has spearheaded a campaign to draw awareness to the dangers of plastic pollution in our oceans, largely through his nature documentary series “Blue Planet II”, which focusses on the environmental impact humans are having. 

Read more: Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ Team Pick Up Every Bit of Litter They Find in the Ocean

“It is one world. And it’s in our care,” said Attenborough, at the launch of the series.. “For the first time in the history of humanity, for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands. I just hope it realises that that is the case.” 

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said: “We are taking significant steps to tackle plastic waste including plans to introduce a ban on plastic microbeads and a call for evidence around deposit reward and return schemes for plastic bottles. We recognise there is more to do in this area, and we will be working with industry to explore how we can further reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste.” 

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