The 10 Products Littering Our Beaches The Most, Revealed By The Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean

More than 255,209 pieces of litter were collected.

Litter from eating and drinking out makes up about 20% of all rubbish found on Britain’s beaches, latest research shows.

A total of 255,209 individual pieces of litter was collected from 339 beaches during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean in September.

The overall figure is a 10% rise in the amount of litter collected last year.

255,209 pieces of litter was collected from 339 beaches during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean this year.
255,209 pieces of litter was collected from 339 beaches during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean this year.
Jack Holt

This latest research comes after Blue Planet II viewers vowed never to used plastic again after an episode earlier this month showed a pilot whale carrying her deceased calf, who is thought to have died as a result of plastic contamination.

Charity the Marine Conservation Society (MSC) categorises drinks 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’ litter.

The MCS report, which was released on Thursday, reveals that per 100 metres of all beaches cleaned by volunteers, 138 pieces of “on the go” litter were found on average.

Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland conservation officer, said: “The whole country always seems to be ‘on the go’ and now our beaches appear to be paying the price for people treating the outdoors as a great big dustbin.

“We’re happy to dump at will rather than keep hold of litter until there’s a bin about.”

It was difficult to trace the source of nearly half the items found during the clean up, but the MCS were able to identify that 30.4% of the litter found on the beach came from the public.

Fishing waste and sewage related debris was also responsible for a significant proportion of the litter found on Britain’s beaches.


The report found that on average in the UK, 718 litter items were collected per 100 metres, which is an increase of 10% when compared to 2016.

Broken down further, England’s beaches had the largest number of litter items per 100m, with 911.

Northern Ireland had 701 litter items per 100m, followed by Wales with 677, Scotland had 491 and the Channel Islands came in the lowest with 253.

Surfers Against Sewage estimates that about 8 million pieces of plastic are entering the oceans every single day.

Here are the top 10 products littering our beaches:

1. Plastic/ polystyrene pieces (0-50cm) - 225.3/100m

Plastic and polystyrene pieces topped the list of the most common item of litter on Britain’s beaches both this year and last year.

These products beat number two in the list by quite a margin.

Since last year there has been a 7% increase in the number of plastic and polystyrene pieces found on beaches.

Last year there were 209.6 items per 100m.

2. Packets (crisp, sweet, lolly, sandwich) - 42.3/100m

Last year there were 43.9 items per 100m, slightly more than this year’s 42.3.

3. Glass - 40.4/100m

Discarded glass bottle.
Discarded glass bottle.
Jack Holt

The amount of glass found on Britain’s beaches has nearly doubled since last year.

Last year, glass was number 7 on the list and now it has jumped to number three, with a 73% increase in the number of items found.

4. Cigarette stubs - 34.5/100m

Jack Holt

The MCS said that during this year’s beach clean, they have been collecting rigid marine plastics and cigarette stubs ready for them to be recycled into new products.

“The cigarette stubs, continually in the top of 10 of most found items, will go to make outside hoarding boards,” the charity said.

5. Caps and lids - 32.9/100m

Caps and lids found on the beach.
Caps and lids found on the beach.
Natasha Ewins

6. String/ cord (thickness 0-1cm) - 31/100m

There’s been a 15% increase in the amount of string/cord found in the beach clean up.

In 2016, 27 items per 100m were found compared to 31 this year.

7. Wet wipes - 27.4/100m

There's been a staggering rise in the number of wet wipes found on beaches.
There's been a staggering rise in the number of wet wipes found on beaches.
Natasha Ewins

There has been a 94% rise in the number of wet wipes found on UK beaches, data from the 2017 Great British Beach Clean revealed.

The MCS said that there has been a stark rise in sewage related debris in Scotland.

Such debris went up 40% on Scottish beaches, the report details, with the main offender being wet wipes, which rocketed by 141% in the past year.

The report said that there was “much confusion over labelling of what can and can’t be flushed”.

The beach clean found that 21% of all Scottish beach litter came from bathrooms, compared to 8% in the rest of the UK.

8. Cotton bud sticks - 26.9/100m

Cotton bud sticks.
Cotton bud sticks.
Natasha Ewins

Gemmell said: “No one wants to swim with a flushed wet wipe or make a sand castle out of cotton bud sticks – we can all make a difference for our seas and beaches both for society and wildlife.

“We need everyone to only flush the 3 P’s down the loo – pee, poo and paper – that’s all.

“Everything else needs to go in the bin so it doesn’t end up on our beautiful beaches. We also need continued investment to fix unsatisfactory Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).”

9. Fishing line - 18/100m

Fishing line was amongst the discarded items.
Fishing line was amongst the discarded items.
Natasha Ewins

The report states that 10.8% of all the litter found on the beaches came from fishing.

“All the things from lobster pots to fishing nets, that help anglers and commercial fishermen catch food,” the report states.

10. Cutlery/ trays/ straws - 15.1/100m

Jack Holt

These items also fall under the “on the go” waste banner. The MCS has a number of recommendations for those wanting to reduce their usage of items such as straws.

They urge people to refuse straws and for businesses not to give them out.

The MCS advocated a levy charge placed on certain items - such those already introduced on plastic bags.

“If a levy was placed on single use plastic such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids, we’re confident that we’d find fewer of these items,” Gemmell said.


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