There’s no doubt, it’s been a wonderful, sunny summer and many of us have headed for the UK’s beaches (of which there are many) to have a few days relaxing by the seaside. We’ve taken the picnics, the buckets and spades, water bottles to stay hydrated, small tents to get changed in, maybe the odd cold can of beer or coffee, and of yes, of course… the kids!

Most of us will have packed everything away and returned to our homes leaving only our proverbial footprints, and yet, each year, millions of tonnes of rubbish end up on our beaches, polluting the environment, posing a threat to wildlife and causing problems regarding beach safety for our children. And each year, the Marine Conservation Society organise the Great British Beach Clean, and with other organisations, councils and volunteer groups, set about tidying up the mess that the ‘Great British Public’ leave behind after their summer holidays.

A ’mountainous’ problem

After last year’s clean up, it was reported that volunteers found an average of 385 pieces of litter for every 100 metres of beach. This is down from 2020 figures which were 425 per 100 metres of beach, and 558 for 2019. Perhaps this was due to the pandemic which curtailed a lot of people’s holiday plans and we will wait to see what this year’s figures show. However, it is still nearly 4 pieces of litter for every 1m of beach, so there is still some way to go before we can claim victory.

A recent poll of people also showed that 1 in 5 people admit to leaving rubbish at a beach and this rises to a massive 48% of young people aged 18 – 24 who admitted littering. One of the reasons people said that they left rubbish was when there was already rubbish there. This refers mostly to people leaving rubbish besides already overflowing bins instead of taking it home with them, when they see the facilities are full.

Whilst there has been a decrease in cotton buds and plastic bags left on our beaches in recent years, 75% of the waste is still plastic related. Litter on our beaches is harmful to wildlife and humans. Glass and other disposable items can be dangerous to children and plastic and other litter can get into our seas and marine environment, where it can do even more harm. More than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year throughout the world after either becoming entangled in or eating plastic materials found in the sea. It is estimated that the so-called ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ has been growing since the 1950s and as a result of marine currents, now spans an area of 3.43 million square kilometres between California and Hawaii.

Types and sources of beach/marine litter

According to the website Keep Scotland Beautiful, coastal litter can be grouped into 8 main material categories which are:

  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Cloth
  • Paper
  • Polystyrene
  • Rubber
  • Wood

They also treat sewage-related debris as a separate category, and yes, according to an Environment Agency report, raw sewage was “pumped into English bathing waters 25,000 times in 2021”.

So what can be done?

There is some good news – whilst littering has reduced, there has also been a 37% increase in UK beach cleaning over the last 10 years so the tide may be turning and we might finally be finding ways to protect our beaches with schemes like the Great British Beach Clean.

The Great British Beach Clean

The Marine Conservation Society organise this event every year in September and this year, the event is taking place between Friday 16th - Sunday 25th September. The week is sponsored by Ireland’s number one soup brand, Cully & Sully and thousands of volunteers across the UK are expected to head to the coast to take part. The premise is a simple one - on every clean, people are asked to collect litter and run a litter survey, recording all the items of rubbish they find in a 100m stretch of beach. The MCS then use the data collected to get a better idea of what is happening on our coasts and to campaign for change. It also feeds into the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) too.

Other organisations also promote the week such as the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, as well as related Scottish and Welsh environmental charities and organisations too.

How to get involved

You can find local events to you on the official website here, or if you prefer to organise your own clean up, you can get help, advice and resources too. Lots of sites sell kits for cleaning up which are available online from retailers or places like the Keep Britain Tidy shop. You can email the MCS at beachwatch@mcsuk.org or give them a call on 01989 567807. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday.

The main things you will need are:

  • Protective gloves
  • High visibility jackets
  • Litter pickers (adult and children’s sizes are available)
  • Black bin bags
  • Bag hoop holder for bin bags which make them easier to carry and stay open whilst litter picking
  • Pen/pencil and paper to record what you find
  • Hand sanitiser

If you are organising this for your setting, remember to do a risk assessment first to check out the area that you are going to clean and think also about keeping children safe in the sun and fully hydrated, especially in warm weather, so sun hats, sun screen and water are essential too.

If you are working towards an environmental award such as the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award or the Green Tree Schools Award, you may be able to claim points towards your award by taking part in the Great British Beach Clean, or any other litter picking or clean up project that you get involved in, so check with your awarding body.

It’s not all hard work and no play

Remember too, that once you have taken part in a beach clean, then you will be well placed to stay and enjoy your lovely clean beach too. There are many exciting things to do at the beach for young children including:

  • Building sandcastles
  • Sand sculptures
  • Rock-pooling
  • Go on a seaside safari and see what mini-creatures you can find
  • Make some beach art using whatever you can find on the beach: seaweed, driftwood, pebbles, sand and shells



More information

Great British Beach Clean
Keep Britain Tidy
Keep Wales Tidy
Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

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