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Our Passion For Plastic Is Leaving A Legacy Of Litter On Welsh Beaches, Says UK's Leading Marine Charity

14th May 2013

Plastic vies for space in the sand alongside sweet wrappers and drinks bottles as our beaches reveal anti-litter campaigns are now falling on deaf ears

Plastic bits and pieces made up over 74% of all the litter found on beaches in Wales during a single weekend last September according to the annual Beachwatch Big Weekend Report published today by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

The amount of plastic overall on UK beaches rose by 3% in 2012 compared to the year before. In Wales the amount of plastic found was almost 10% higher than the UK average.

The latest figures also reveal a rise in the number of sweet and lolly wrappers on Welsh beaches, where volunteer cleaners also found over 112 plastic drinks bottles for every kilometre they surveyed.

MCS says the amount of rubbish like sweet wrappers and plastic bottles seems to indicate that decades of various anti-litter campaigns in Wales now need to be re-invigorated for a new generation.  

Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Officer, says the continued rise in beach litter is worrying, but the fact that much of it is plastic and unlikely to break down is even more concerning: "As we continue to embrace the concept of a throwaway society it's no surprise that plastic dominates the litter we find. In Wales we have also seen a rise in the amount of fishing waste on our beaches, which is mainly due to the Principality's location in the British Isles. Wales tends to bear the brunt of this kind of litter because of prevailing winds and the effects of the Gulf Stream depositing such waste on Welsh beaches."

Figures from the Beachwatch Big Weekend 2012, reveal the amount of litter items per kilometre in the UK has risen sharply and is at its highest since 2008. 2,000 pieces of litter were found per kilometre compared to 1,741 pieces the year before.

In Wales 408 volunteers cleaned 45 beaches, covering a total of 8.57kilometres. 23,362 items of litter were collected filling over 223 bags. For every kilometre surveyed almost 2,726 pieces of litter were found compared to 1,839 during the previous survey.

Beachwatch is part of the International Coastal Clean-up which takes place in 180 countries and regions worldwide over the same weekend every September. MCS Beachwatch is the only UK clean-up to feed data directly into this global event.

"Despite last summer being seen as a wash out by many with heavy rain in many places, it appears those people that did visit our beaches left behind a lot of personal litter - sweet wrappers, ice cream wrappers and plastic drinks bottles failed to find their way into rubbish bins and ended up being dropped and left behind. This year's figures point to people becoming less bothered about littering," says Lauren Eyles.

MCS says enough is enough, and environmental charities, regulators, devolved administrations must set aside their differences and join forces in the fight against littering.

Some progress has been made - such as the single use carrier bag levies introduced in Wales over a year ago, and in Northern Ireland in April. Northern Ireland also has the first marine litter strategy in the UK which is likely to be published in the summer. 

In Scotland a consultation on both a national and marine litter strategy is expected to take place this summer. 

MCS data reveals that about 80% of the litter found on the UK's beaches comes from terrestrial sources, so we must go inland if we are to focus efforts on reducing beach and marine rubbish.

Lauren Eyles says collaboration with other anti-litter organizations could be key. "We must hammer home the message that litter is completely unacceptable in the 21st century. The number of opportunities provided by local authorities to recycle waste, or to dispose of litter in a socially acceptable manner have never been greater. So it's hard to understand why people think its ok to rubbish their neighbourhoods, and in turn the countryside and coastline of Wales?"

The report can be viewed online at www.mcsuk.org.

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