Great British Beach Clean 2021, Cramond Beach, Edinburgh

Putting a stop to sewage pollution on Scottish beaches

2 minute read

Catherine Gemmell

Catherine Gemmell, Policy and Advocacy Manager

23 Feb 2022

We're supporting Scottish Water's new campaign, Nature Calls. The campaign calls to ban plastic wet wipes and to prevent items that have been flushed wrongly, reaching Scotland's seas and shores.

Wet wipe litter is a massive problem

We‘ve been monitoring and cleaning Cramond beach for over 20 years. In the last 5 years alone, volunteers have recorded over 30,000 wet wipes from just this 100m stretch of beach. The map below shows the areas that are most impacted by wet wipe pollution.

But it’s not just Cramond beach that’s suffering. During the Great British Beach Clean 2021 volunteers found an average of 25 wet wipes per 100m of beach surveyed in Scotland.

The Nature Calls campaign, run by Scottish Water, aims to raise awareness about what should and shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet as well as calling for a ban on plastic wet wipes. Our Scotland Conservation Officer, Catherine, joined the team at the beach...

UK Wet Wipe Heatmap - Landscape.png

Credit: Marine Conservation Society

How are wet wipes getting on our beaches?

If items are wrongly flushed, these can then make their way to the coast and sea through sewer overflows.

When our sewerage systems are overloaded by things like heavy rainfall these overflows open up like an emergency valve to stop sewage backing up into people's home, businesses etc. These sewage overflows are vital but we're concerned that they're not being monitored properly.

As you can see from the chart below, this is a massive problem, especially for Scotland’s Central Belt, affecting beaches around the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde the most.

UK Sewage-related debris data 2021 - Landscape.png

Credit: Marine Conservation Society

What we're doing and how you can help

Firstly, you can help at home by only flushing the ‘three P’s’ down the loo – pee, poo and paper! Or, if you need to use flushable wet wipes, make sure to look for the ‘Fine to Flush’ logo on packaging.

We know that single-use plastic policies such as the carrier bag charge and the ban on single-use plastic-stemmed cotton buds work. Our data has helped secure these policies and it’s also shown them working!

The number of single-use plastic bags have more than halved since charges across the UK were introduced. Cotton buds found in Scotland also dropped by 50% between 2020 and 2021 following the ban in 2019.

This is why we're calling for more of these sewer overflows to be monitored. You can help by sharing our Parliamentary Briefing on Sewage Related Debris with your Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP).

You can also share your views, and call for a ban on plastic wet wipes by responding to the Scottish Government’s Marine Litter Strategy Consultation.

Retailers are getting it

Wet wipe retailer survey, 2022

Credit: Marine Conservation Society

Responsibility also lies with manufacturers and retailers. In early 2021 we surveyed 12 UK retailers to find out the plastic content of their own brand wet wipes. Only three retailers had removed plastics from their wet wipes.

This year, we’ve checked in with retailers again and five have now phased out plastic from own brand wet wipes with just two retailers having not committed to phasing out plastic from their wet wipes by the end of 2022.

If action is taken by government, industry and all of us at home, together we can banish plastic wet wipes from beaches across the UK.