Beachwatch results show reduction in litter left on Suffolk’s shores

Hutchison Ports beach clean-up at Landguard, Felixstowe, last September.

Hutchison Ports beach clean-up at Landguard, Felixstowe, last September. - Credit: Archant

An annual spotcheck on the state of Suffolk’s beaches has found a dramatic drop in litter, but conservationists say the situation is not good enough and still posing a danger to wildlife.

The county saw an 18% reduction in the number of items collected during the Marine Conservation Society’s (MSC) Great British Beach Clean, in stark contrast to the 6.4% rise nationally around UK shores.

More than 350 volunteers took part in litter picks on 23 beaches from Lowestoft to Felixstowe, collecting 15,897 items of rubbish compared with 19,518 the previous year.

In Essex, 157 volunteers collected 9,098 items last September – a slight fall on the 2013 total of 10,036.

The MSC said much of the litter usually collected still persisted, including fishing lines and nets, food, sweet and ice cream wrappers, tins cans and drinks bottles, and shipping and sewage-related debris.

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The biggest problem this time was wet wipes, which saw a 50% increase – with around 35 squares on every kilometre of coastline – as more people choose to use moist cloths to remove make-up, replace traditional toilet paper and apply fake tan.

MCS Beachwatch Officer Charlotte Coombes said the problem is that wipes, often described as flushable, are being put down the toilet instead of thrown in the bin.

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She said: “Our sewerage systems weren’t built to cope with wet wipes. When flushed they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper, and they typically contain plastic so once they reach the sea, they last for a very long time.”

Plastics and other materials posed the biggest threat to wildlife.

MCS says not enough is being done and is calling on Government to draw up National Marine Litter Action Plans for England and Wales, similar to those already produced for Scotland – where litter has decreased – and Northern Ireland.

Andrew Nunn, Suffolk Coastal’s cabinet member for the green environment, said: “It is heart breaking when you see the amount of litter which ends up on our beaches.

“I would like to express our gratitude for the good citizenship of the many volunteers who organise or take part in litter picks throughout Suffolk and all who just pick up litter whenever they see it.

“On the issue of wet wipes there are two key messages. The first is the obvious – if you use wet wipes when you are out and about, either bin them or take them home. The second is don’t put wet wipes, fats and other unsuitable things down toilets and drains, as these combine to create sewer flooding and environmental pollution incidents.

“Some people flush things like this down the toilet in the mistaken belief they are not doing any harm. We would appeal for people not to do this. Wet wipes do not disintegrate. They can pass through the sewerage system and end up on the beaches.

“Thankfully, a large proportion of people who visit Suffolk’s beaches behave very responsibly and do not leave litter, but it is always a battle to keep the beaches clean and make them attractive to local people and visitors.

“Litter is not only an eyesore, it is a health risk to beach users and wildlife. I would appeal for everyone to play their part in keeping the beaches clean. Please be responsible – clean up after yourself and, take one step further, if you see litter on a beach, pick it up and bin it!”

MCS senior pollution policy officer, Dr Sue Kinsey said: “There is an international obligation for the UK Government to take action to reduce marine litter under an EU marine directive.

“We therefore believe Government needs to produce National Marine Litter Action Plans for England and Wales, similar to those already produced for Scotland and Northern Ireland. There has to be a three pronged attack on marine litter led by new policies and action from Government, new practices from industry and behaviour change from the public.”

MCS says a National Marine Litter Action Plan should address the key sources of marine litter: public, fishing, shipping and sewage related debris, which includes wet wipes.

“The charity says new measures that need to be taken to tackle the issue include: a nationwide deposit scheme for plastic drinks bottles and aluminium drinks cans – 10% of overall beach litter recorded during the Great British Beach Clean in 2014 - and better disposal /recycling facilities for fishermen, both commercial and recreational – 11% of all beach litter surveyed during last September’s event.

“The latest results from our weekend-long Great British Beach Clean event held between 19th and 22nd September show that plastic pieces are once again the most frequently found items on UK beaches,” said Ms Coombes. “Mostly these can’t be identified so will almost certainly have been in the marine environment for years, starting off as something much bigger and then slowly breaking down – the problem is they will never disappear completely and research is underway to look at the impact these microplastics could be having on the food chain.”

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