PPE Litter
© Natasha Ewins

Great British Beach Clean 2020 results: PPE pollution on the rise on UK's beaches

By: Victoria Riglen
Date posted: 6 November 2020

Like many events this year, the Great British Beach Clean, our annual flagship event, looked a little different. Our organisers downsized their beach cleans to small groups and enlisted friends, families and ‘bubbles’ to help clear beaches of litter and take part in the citizen science project. We also extended the Great British Beach Clean to become a weeklong event, running from the 18-25th September.

Young beach cleaners 2020
© MCS/ Billy Barraclough

Despite the unusual circumstances, an amazing 2,124 volunteers took part across 459 events.

Efforts at the beach were joined by volunteers getting involved in our brand new Source to Sea Litter Quest inland. The inland litter survey means we can directly see what litter in particular is making its way to the coast. 80% of litter on our beaches has made its way there from our parks, rivers and streets far from the coast.

The results from this year’s Great British Beach Clean show a concerning, but perhaps predictable, presence of PPE litter. Face masks and gloves were found on almost 30% of beaches cleaned by our volunteers. The Source to Sea Litter Quest data shows a similarly worrying presence of masks and gloves, with more than two thirds (69%) of litter picks finding PPE items.

Lizzie Prior, Great British Beach Clean Coordinator said: “The amount of PPE our volunteers found on beaches and inland this year is certainly of concern. Considering mask wearing was only made mandatory in shops in England in late July, little more than three months before the Great British Beach Clean, the sharp increase in PPE litter should be a word of warning for what could be a new form of litter polluting our beaches in the future.”

In addition to the sharp jump in face masks and gloves, drinks containers continue to pollute UK beaches. An average of 30 drinks containers were found per 100m of beach surveyed this year. Inland, almost all litter picks (99%) found drinks containers. This continued blight to our environment illustrates the urgent need for governments to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce an all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas said: “This year’s data, shows just how crucial it is that Wales, England and Northern Ireland follow in the footsteps of Scotland and commit to introducing an all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme. The scheme in Scotland is due to start in July 2022.

“Despite lockdown, with many of us spending more time at home, littering in public spaces has continued unabated. Almost every single local litter pick found at least one drinks container, which is incredibly concerning. An effective Deposit Return Scheme would take the UK one step closer to a circular economy model and drastically reduce the volume of single-use pollution in the UK’s streets, parks and on our beaches.”


How you can help

The coronavirus global pandemic is affecting us all. As habits change, new litter items are appearing on our beaches and we need to get more people trained up and helping to organize beach cleans across the UK. If you can donate, we’d really appreciate your support for our PPE Clean-Up Appeal

Actions you can take