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Marine Conservation Society releases State of our Beaches report

By Gregor White

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Types of litter were recorded across Scotland's beaches by an army of volunteers.
Types of litter were recorded across Scotland's beaches by an army of volunteers.

The Marine Conservation Society has released its annual report, State of our Beaches 2023, on data collected by their beach clean volunteers.

In Scotland, 3200 volunteers took part in the charity’s beach clean programme, collecting and recording all rubbish found on 100 metre stretches of beach.

This data adds to the charity’s 30-year dataset and paints a picture of how litter across the nation is changing, as well as highlighting what needs to be done to tackle it.

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said, “Over 3000 volunteers collected vital data from across Scotland last year, showing the need to cut the amount of single-use plastic we use and curb sewage pollution.

“Thanks to more volunteers taking part in the islands, we now have a clearer idea of the sorts of litter washing up in these areas, which differs from the mainland.

"Data provides us with valuable information that we can use in collaboration with coastal communities, industry and government to reduce the amount of litter turning up on Scottish beaches.”

Single-use plastic items such as bottle caps and lids, drinks bottles and packets make up three of the top five items found across Scotland’s beaches and metal drinks cans were the tenth most common item found.

The charity is calling for governments across the UK to introduce compatible all inclusive deposit return schemes as soon as possible

This would see aluminium cans, and plastic and glass bottles have a 20p deposit which would be returned when recycled which would reduce drinks-related pollution.

A scheme proposed for Scotland was previously abandoned after an outcry from businesses.

Nevertheless The Marine Conservation Society is hopeful that the Circular Economy Bill, introduced by the Scottish Government in June 2023, which is currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament, will help reduce beach litter by moving towards a society of reuse, refill and repair.

Data from the Marine Conservation Society also shows what policies are already working to tackle litter, the organisation says.

Following the ban on single use cotton buds, beach clean volunteers recorded a decrease of 16 per cent from 2022-2023.

The carrier bag charge also appears to still be working, with an 11 per cent drop observed from 2022-2023.

Volunteers found sanitary waste on 72 per cent of beaches surveyed in Scotland last year with over 15,000 wet wipes collected and recorded by volunteers. This is a 50 per cent decrease from 2022.

The Marine Conservation Society wants the Scottish Government to implement aban on plastic in single-use wet wipes as soon as possible and is calling for increased monitoring of the sewerage network and action to stop them spilling into rivers and seas.

Fishing and aquaculture gear made up 49 per cent of the litter recorded on Scottish Islands versus nine per cent of the litter on mainland Scotland.

The Marine Conservation Society hopes that by recording this kind of litter, it can work with stakeholders to develop solutions to reduce the amount washing up on our beaches.

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