Source to Sea volunteer, Festival Pier, London 2022

Source to Sea Litter Quest

No matter where you live across the UK, you can help keep our seas clean. Most of the litter that ends up on our beaches or in the sea starts its journey in villages, towns and cities miles from the coast.

What is Source to Sea Litter Quest?

Every year, thousands of people head to the coast to take part in a beach clean and record what they find there. But if you don't live near the sea, you can still make a difference to the health of our ocean by recording the litter you see in your local area.

80% of marine litter comes from land-based sources finding its way into streams, rivers or drains and ending up in the ocean, where it causes problems for ecosystems and sea life.

80%

of litter on our beaches has made its way there from inland sources

Source to Sea, Festival Pier, London 2022

Credit: Billy Barraclough

As part of our inland litter cleans, we use the data you collect to track rubbish back to its source. Your survey results are then used to find solutions to ocean pollution and to campaign for measures to bring positive change.

Taking part is simple and you can conduct a clean at any time of year. You can make a difference wherever you are in the UK.

How to take part

Before heading out to conduct your survey, check out our handy risk assessments to help you stay safe. If you are leading a group, we've put together a handy guide to help you run a litter pick.

There are 15 items to look out for when you head out on your litter quest. Taking part is simple:

  1. Download and print our Source to Sea Litter Quest form. We have also created a simplified recording form, with clear line drawings of each item, which are easy to print for larger groups.

2. Head to your local park, street or river and record which litter items you spot there - keep a tally of how many you find. If you are taking part with younger children, you can tick the form instead.

3. If it is safe to, and the litter is on public land, you can either take the rubbish home with you or arrange uplift of litter with the local council - remember to recycle it wherever possible

4. Submit your litter data using our handy form. If you prefer, you can email us a photo or scan of your form to [email protected]

Submit your source to sea survey data

Tell us what you found

This year's Litter Quest items

We've made some recent changes to the Source to sea litter quest form in response to feedback from our volunteers. You can find out more about the changes here.

Source to Sea items

Why your help matters

All of the data you collect on the beach, on your street or in a local park helps us campaign for change to protect our ocean.

Plastic bag charges

We’ve used data collected in previous years to make the case for carrier bag charges across the UK. Wales introduced charges in 2011 followed by Scotland in 2014 and England in 2015.

We know policies like carrier bag charges work. Since their introduction across the UK, we’ve seen a 61% drop (2011-2021) in the number of plastic bags we’re finding on beaches. The more data we collect, the more policies we can push for to make beach and ocean pollution a thing of the past.

Plastic bags in the ocean Rich Carey

Credit: Rich Carey via Shutterstock

Deposit return schemes

During last year’s Great British Beach Clean we found an average of 30 drinks-related litter items, like plastic bottles or drinks cans, for every 100m of beach surveyed. These items were also found on 99% of inland cleans.

We’re campaigning for deposit return schemes across the UK. These schemes mean you pay a small deposit on these items when you buy them, then when you return it to be recycled, you get your money back.

Scotland is set to introduce these schemes in August 2023. England, Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to bring in laws that will support a deposit return scheme. With your help we can provide evidence of the problem to encourage politicians to take urgent action.

99

%

of inland cleans found drinks-related litter in 2021

Vapes

With 14 million single-use vapes sold each month in the UK, many are ending up littered on our streets where they pollute the environment, making their way into rivers and eventually, the ocean.

We know that disposable vapes are polluting our streets, parks, rivers and beaches. By taking part, you’re helping to gather data which acts as evidence to show just how much of a problem disposable vapes are for our environment. Find out more about our Ban disposable vapes campaign here.

Disposable vapes, Laura Young

Credit: Laura Young

Wet wipes

Sometimes it’s hard to understand a single wet wipe can make such a big impact hundreds of miles away. But each year we find evidence of the impact of a single flush on our beaches and in our coastal waters. In 2020, we found 18 wet wipes on every 100m of beach during our Great British Beach Clean and these are consistently found in the top 10 most common litter items on Scottish beaches.

Many wet wipes contain plastic fibres which break down into microplastics and become harmful to marine animals. We’re calling for UK governments to ban single use plastic wipes.

Balloons

Letting balloons go and setting off sky lanterns may seem like a bit of harmless fun, but what happens when they float out of your sight and disappear from your thoughts? They land somewhere – either intact or in bits with their trailing strings and plastic ties.

Over the past 5 years, we've found on average 3 balloons per 100m during our Great British Beach Clean!

Councils all around the UK got involved in our ‘Don’t let go’ campaign and voted to ban outdoor balloon and sky lanterns releases.

Source to Sea Litter Quest 2022 results

A huge THANK YOU to those who took part in an inland clean during Great British Beach Clean. 80% of litter found in our oceans finds its way there from inland sources, so tracking this litter is really important to identify where the litter may come from. Here's what you found this year.

Source to Sea results 2022
Source to Sea results 2022

You can carry out a Source to Sea litter quest at any time of year. All of the data you collect is valuable in our campaigns for cleaner seas.

Green Recovery Challenge Fund Logo

This project is funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund was developed by Defra and its Arm's-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

Submit your source to sea survey data

Tell us what you found