PPE mask litter on coast path in Cornwall Natasha Ewins

In 2020, our Great British Beach Clean looked a little different due to Covid. 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.

What did the results show?

Despite the unusual circumstances, an amazing 2,124 volunteers took part across 459 events. Volunteers found an average of 425 items of litter per 100m of UK shoreline.

The results showed a concerning, but perhaps predictable, presence of PPE litter. Face masks and gloves were found on almost 30% of beaches cleaned by our volunteers.

As well as 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 once again showing the need for a Deposit Return Scheme.

The results showed a concerning, but perhaps predictable, presence of PPE litter. Face masks and gloves were found on almost 30% of beaches cleaned by our volunteers.

Lizzie Prior, Great British Beach Clean Coordinator

Lizzie Prior, Great British Beach Clean Coordinator at the Marine Conservation Society, 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."

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During 2020's Great British Beach Clean PPE was found on many beaches

Like many other single-use items, disposable face masks and gloves pose a threat to wildlife on land and at sea. Marine animals could mistake face masks and gloves for prey, filling their stomachs with materials which will not break down and could prove to be fatal. Animals also risk being tangled in the straps of face masks, with seabirds' feet pictured recently being wrapped in the elastic strings.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society said: “This year’s Great British Beach Clean data, in addition to the Source to Sea Litter Quest data, shows just how crucial it is that Wales, England and Northern Ireland follow in the footsteps of Scotland and urgently introduce all-inclusive Deposit Return Schemes.

“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. Effective Deposit Return Schemes 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.”

Top five litter items found in our 2020 GBBC

The top five most common litter items on UK beaches in 2020 (average per 100m of beach surveyed):

  1. Plastic and polystyrene pieces (0-50cm) – 167.2
  2. Plastic and polystyrene caps and lids – 19.7
  3. Wet wipes – 17.7
  4. Cigarette stubs – 16.2
  5. Plastic string - 15.8
Beer bottle litter on Crantock Beach Cornwall Beer Natasha Ewins

Credit: Natasha Ewins

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