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Why beach cleans are so important

In this latest blog, Marine Conservation Society discuss how 25 years of the Great British Beach Clean have helped turn the tide on plastic pollution.

September 2019

Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has been running their flagship event, Great British Beach Clean, for 25 years. Every year, staff and volunteers head to beaches up and down the coast to collect litter and record data about what they find, contributing to citizen science. So far 319 tonnes of litter at the Great British Beach Clean events have been collected. This informs various projects MCS are involved with, and is shared with the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) contributing to a worldwide report on litter levels. All this data has helped inform new policies to tackle beach litter and plastic pollution in the UK such as the plastic bag charge, a ban on microplastics in personal care products and better wet wipe labelling.

We use single-use plastics for just about everything, from cleaning our teeth and showering, to buying and storing our food and other products. It is durable and lightweight, but it’s these properties that allow it to persist in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years. At the time of writing, 5.5 million tonnes of plastic have been dumped into our oceans. This breaks down into microplastics which then make their way into the food chain.

As awareness and understanding of the issue of plastic pollution has risen, so too has public support for action. MCS have seen this first hand from passionate volunteers supporting our work. Some have shared with us their experiences and why they feel beach cleans are so important:

“With the Marine Conservation Society’s beach cleans it's not only the fact that we are removing large amounts of litter off the beaches which makes the work so worthwhile, it is also about promoting education as an important part of the day on the beach. Don't stop reading - learning is cool!

Beach clean days allow us to show the impacts of items we’re throwing away, even though their effect on our environment might not be immediately obvious. Did you know it takes a disposable nappy up to 500 years to decompose? I didn’t until recently and neither do many people who take part in beach clean days. This stuff is really important, because knowledge is power, and that's important when you are trying to save the world (or at least the oceans). Every second breath you take comes from the ocean, so protecting it and educating people about it is of the upmost importance. Facts like this are flying all over the place at MCS beach cleans.”

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans, if we continue with our current consumption of this versatile material. Our vision is to have seas full of life - seas and coasts where nature flourishes and people thrive. However, this won’t be possible if we don’t urgently turn off the plastic tap. We need to reduce production of all unnecessary plastic materials, including alternative plastics.

Government are proposing new policies such as a deposit return scheme, a tax on plastic that doesn’t include recycled content and a reform of packaging rules to ensure producers pay the full life cycle costs of the materials they produce. However, in their current forms, these proposals don’t go far enough to reduce the plastic being put on our shelves every day so whilst we push Government behind the scenes, the Great British Beach Clean will continue to show the scale of the crisis and the public support for action to tackle it.

The Great British Beach Clean 2019 takes place between 20th - 23rd September across the country. To find out more, visit our website:

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The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.