News
Nov 22, 2016

Number of plastic bags on Scotland’s beaches continues to drop


Marine charity says 5p is a small price to pay for fewer carriers at the coast

 

The number of plastic carrier bags found on Scotland’s beaches in surveys carried out by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has dropped for the second year in a row following introduction of Scotland’s carrier bag charge in October 2014. In Scotland, a turnout of 1,744 volunteers on a record-breaking 121 beaches recorded, on average, one fewer plastic bags over the same distance in 2016 compared to 2015.

 

The figures are published today in the MCS Great British Beach Clean 2016 report, based on surveys carried out in September 2016. Across the UK in 2015 there were, on average, 11 plastic bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned, but in 2016 there were just under seven – that’s a decrease of almost 40% and the lowest number in the last ten years.

 

The charity began calling for action on single use carrier bags in shops back in 2008 and was instrumental in getting a levy introduced in Wales in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013, Scotland in October 2014 and England in October last year.

 

“In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of ten single use carrier bags per every 100 metres of UK coastline that were cleaned. This year, for the second year in a row since the charge was introduced in Scotland, we’ve seen a drop in the number being recorded in what has been a record year for participation in Scotland. It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for Scotland’s seas and beaches. Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had throughout the UK,” says Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer.

 

Beaches in England and Northern Ireland saw the biggest drop in the number of plastic bags found during the September clean up - over half compared with 2015. In Wales, where the charge has been in place for five years, the number – just under four bags for every 100 metres cleaned - is significantly lower than any other year since 2011. Numbers were down by almost half across the UK as a whole between 2015 and 2016. MCS says overall the trend is down and that can only be good news for beach visitors and wildlife. 

 

MCS says there has been a drop of almost 4% in the amount of litter items found on UK beaches between 2015 and 2016 – but with 268,384 individual items of litters collected at 364 events by just under 6,000 volunteers, there’s very little to be cheerful about when it comes to the sheer quantity of litter on our beaches.

 

Beaches in Scotland saw a decrease of 18% in overall litter levels, rubbish in the North East dropped by 14% and in the Channel Islands by 10%. But there were increases in the amount of beach litter in the North West (24%), Wales and the South West (15%) and in Northern Ireland (9%). 

 

Data collected by Great British Beach Clean volunteers also showed a rise of over 4% in the amount of drinks containers found on the UK’s beaches – including plastic bottles, tops and aluminium cans. MCS is therefore still working hard with partners on the ‘Have You Got The Bottle’ campaign asking the Scottish Government to introduce a Deposit Return System for drinks containers in Scotland. By introducing a small deposit we believe that a DRS for Scotland would improve bottle and can recycling and reduce littering, helping our beaches as the 5p carrier bag charge has.

 

MCS' beachcleaning work is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery (PPL), enabling teams of volunteers to clean up huge swathes of our beaches. In Scotland we hosted our largest beach clean ever with over 180 PPL staff coming along to participate in the project and how our volunteers are helping influence policy with their amazing efforts.

 

The charity says that Marine Litter Strategies across the UK must include specific actions to tackle the problems highlighted by the surveys, and those strategies that already do, such as Scotland’s, must deliver on those actions. 

 

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Solway Firth Partnership