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Beachwatch 2023: What you found

A huge thank you to everyone who got involved with a beach clean or litter survey in 2023. Here's a full breakdown of the results.

The results are in

An incredible 14,271 volunteers removed litter from their local beaches and submitted over 1,000 litter surveys to us throughout 2023.

Volunteers across the UK and Channel Islands cleared 17,208 kgs of litter and provided vital information on the state of our beaches.

Find out about what this vital litter data tells us and the actions we’re taking around the UK and Channel Islands to reduce the amount of harmful plastic and other litter items ending up on our beaches.

What did the UK and Channel Islands results show?

1,119

litter surveys submitted

92

miles

of beach cleaned

5

%

increase in volunteers compared to 2022

A whopping 480,343 litter items were removed from beaches, and on average there were 167 litter items found per 100m of beach.

Drinks-related litter

Glass bottles, plastic bottles and metal drinks cans continue to pollute our beaches and streets. In 2023, drinks-related litter increased by 14% compared to 2022, highlighting the importance of urgently introducing effective Deposit Return Schemes.

Drinks litter in Scotland

Credit: Catherine Gemmell

  • 66% of beach cleans found metal drinks cans
  • 52% of beach cleans found glass bottles
  • 92% of inland litter picks recorded plastic bottles and lids.

Find out more about our work on Deposit Return Schemes that are being introduced across the UK.

97

%

of beach cleans recorded drinks related litter

Sewage-related litter

Across the UK and Channel Islands in 2023, over 29,500 sewage-related items were recorded. These items include wet wipes, cotton bud sticks and sanitary products that get flushed down the toilet instead of going in the bin.

Over 21,000 wet wipes were recorded in 2023. This is why we need the ban on plastic in single-use wet wipes implemented as soon as possible.

Find out more about the work we're doing on sewage-related litter.

72

%

of beaches surveyed in 2023 found sewage-related items

Wet wipes at Cramond beach clean, Scotland, Kirsty Crawford.jpeg

Credit: Kirsty Crawford

Vapes

We added vapes to our inland litter picking form in 2023 and an astounding 940 vapes were found in total, across 42% of inland litter picks.

We welcome the recently announced ban on disposable vapes which is coming into place across the UK, and we hope to see fewer vapes recorded in future cleans. The tireless campaigning of Laura Young, alumni member of our Youth Ocean Network, to ban disposable vapes helped secure this win for our environment and our seas.

Litter around the UK

When it comes to reducing beach litter, there isn't a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The political power to drive change, and the types of litter volunteers find, varies around the UK, so we’re continuing to campaign at a national level to reduce the levels of pollution in our marine environments.

Find out more about what is happening in each nation and what we’re doing to curb marine litter below.

Scotland

Scotland Overview_

Thanks to over 3,200 volunteers, we saw a 19% increase in the number of litter surveys submitted from Scottish beaches, giving us more vital data to use as evidence for policy change.

In 2023, we saw a 17% increase in litter with 188 items found on average per 100m of beach surveyed.

Wet wipes

Unfortunately, wet wipes are still a major problem in certain areas of Scotland, with over 15,000 wet wipes picked up in 2023. Although this is a 50% decrease from 2022, it still highlights the pressing need for the ban on plastic in single-use wet wipes to come into effect, as well as additional support to switch to reusables.

Although we'll have to wait and see if this downward trend continues in future years, this is a positive sign that the recent investment by Scottish Water and Scottish Government to  deliver preventative measures in ‘hot spot’ areas is starting to work, however, to fully achieve sewage-free beaches we still need more monitoring and improvements of Scotland's wastewater network.

Circular economy

It's clear that Scotland needs to transition from a throwaway society to one which reuses, repairs and refills instead. Hopefully the Circular Economy Bill, introduced by the Scottish Government in June 2023 and is currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament, will help reduce beach litter.

With plastic and polystyrene cups recorded on 58% of beaches, we hope to see legislation for a charge on cups, like the carrier bag charge, along with other supportive measures to move to more reusable options.

Fishing gear and aquaculture equipment

With the support of the Scottish Islands Federation, we saw a 112% increase in the number of surveys submitted from across the Scottish Islands. With fishing and aquaculture gear making up 49% of the litter recorded on Scottish Islands versus 9% of the litter on mainland Scotland, it’s clear that action is needed to identify the sources and causes of this type of litter impacting coastal communities.

Wales

Wales Beachwatch report 2023 overview

This year we received 108 surveys from across Wales, with 1,156 volunteers taking part and giving 1,546 hours of their time to  clean Welsh beaches. We saw some encouraging trends, with the amount of litter in Wales decreasing by 15% compared to 2022.

Sewage-related litter

We did, however, see a 48% increase of sewage-related items on Wales’ beaches. To help address this, we are calling on n Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and the Welsh Government to reduce the harmful impacts of storm overflow discharges. Our recent briefing sets out the steps we’d like to be taken.

Drinks-related litter

In 2023 we saw an 8% increase in drinks-related litter in Wales compared to 2022, making up 14% of all litter found in Wales. In total we recorded 3835 drinks related items on Wales’ beaches. We are therefore delighted the Welsh Government have committed to implementing a Deposit Return Scheme for plastic and glass bottles and metal cans to reduce the amount of this type of litter washing up on Welsh beaches.

England

England Beachwatch report 2023 overview

Drinks-related litter

In 2023 we saw a 7% increase in drinks-related litter in England compared to 2022, making up 10% of all litter found in England. In total we recorded 21,757 drinks related items on England’s beaches.

We hope the implementation of Deposit Return Schemes set to come in to force in 2025 will result in less of these items littering our environment. However, to truly protect our ocean, we need comprehensive Deposit Return Schemes that are compatible between each of the UK nations.

Sewage-related debris and water bill price increases

Sewage-related items make up 4% of all litter found on England’s beaches with over 8,700 items recorded in 2023.

79% of beaches surveyed had sewage-related items, such as wet wipes and sanitary products on them. These items get swept onto our shores when sewers overflow due to heavy rainfall or insufficient capacity in the sewage network. We’re working hard to stop from this happening. Prompted by our research, the UK Government began a public consultation in July 2023 to review the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. As a result of this consultation, all storm overflows in England will now be incorporated into the Plan, including all coastal waters and estuaries. We hope that addressing sewage discharges will lead to fewer sewage-related items ending up on England’s beaches.

Improving sewage systems and infrastructure is essential for the protection and restoration of our ocean and environment as well as public health. However, it will require significant investment to fund the upgrades necessary to deliver sustainable water management. This investment needs to come from within the industry, with revenue spent to deliver the improvements needed.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Beachwatch report 2023 overview

We saw a fantastic rise in the number of Beachwatch surveys and volunteers in Northern Ireland in 2023. 250 volunteers took part, giving 361 hours of their time to cleaning beaches and recording the litter on them.

The top litter material in Northern Ireland was plastic and polystyrene, which made up 82% of litter found.

In 2023, we saw an increase of 250% of surveys in Northern Ireland compared to 2022. This is great news, but there still isn't enough data from this region to draw statistically significant conclusions. We'd love to grow our volunteer numbers further to paint a true picture of the state of Northern Ireland's beaches.

Channel Islands

Channel Island Beachwatch report 2023 Overview

Almost 80% of the litter found on the Channel Islands’ beaches was made from plastic and polystyrene, showing how widespread the plastic pollution problem is. The main source of litter was the general public, which accounted for 31% of litter found on beaches, and 25% was made up of fishing-related litter.

As with Northern Ireland, we’re currently unable to draw statistical conclusions from the data and are keen to get more volunteers from the Channel Islands involved in our beach cleans and litter surveys.

If you’d like to take part and contribute to our ever-growing dataset, please email [email protected].

Get involved

Share these results with your local politician and ask them what they are doing to help reduce beach litter, or check out more ways below to get involved and help tackle marine pollution.

Join or organise a beach clean

Our beach cleans and litter surveys happen all year round. We have all the resources you need to get started. Check whether there’s one happening near you or organise your own.

Team beach cleans

If you’re looking for a team building or volunteering day for your company, join our experts on a beach clean for a day of fun, whilst doing something worthwhile for the environment. Find out more about team beach cleans.

Source to Sea Litter Quest

In the UK, you‘re never too far from a waterway or sewer, which can carry litter into the ocean and onto our beaches. By taking part in Source to Sea and clearing litter from our streets, you prevent it from polluting our beaches and help build a bigger picture of pollution in UK seas. Find out more about inland litter picks.

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A huge thank you to our Beachwatch sponsor, Aldi.  Our partnership means we’re able to carry out beach cleans throughout 2024 and collect valuable data that makes a big difference in keeping our seas safe for wildlife, people, and future generations.

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Supported by players of the People's Postcode Lottery.

Credit: People's Postcode Lottery