Pink bottles washing up on Cornwall beaches highlight increasing marine litter problem


As thousands of pink detergent bottles are cleared from our beautiful beaches in Cornwall, Dr Sue Kinsey, Senior Pollution Policy Officer for the Marine Conservation Society, and Sarah O’Brien, South West External Affairs Advisor for the National Trust, highlight the wider issue of how marine litter is a growing problem.

Pink detergent bottles washed up on Poldhu beach in Cornwall

Pink detergent bottles washed up on Poldhu beach in Cornwall ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Over the past week, 7000 pink bottles of household stain remover have washed up on beaches on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula and been picked up by National Trust staff, volunteers, local community groups and members of the public. The bottles came from a container lost off the coast of Lands End and in this case the manufacturers are taking them away to be recycled, and covering the costs of the clear up.

Marine litter – a growing problem

This is the latest in a string of high profile marine pollution incidents, and highlights bigger issues around marine litter, marine pollution and the plastic in our seas and on our beaches. Plastic never biodegrades – it breaks down into small pieces but does not disappear. Microplastic particles are now found inside filter feeding animals and amongst sand grains on our beaches.

The Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean has revealed that there are nearly 2,500 items of rubbish for every kilometre on a beach. Marine wildlife gets entangled in litter and accidentally ingests it. Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and the bags block their stomachs, often leading to death from starvation. Seabirds mistake floating plastic litter for food, and over 90% of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs.

Marine litter is an increasing problem on the National Trust’s 68 beaches in the South West.  As well as being important sites for coast and marine wildlife, our beautiful coves, bays and dunes underpin the tourist economy, and are much loved and used by local communities. Much more needs to be done to protect our beaches and tackle this problem long term.

Justin Whitehouse, lead National Trust Ranger on the Lizard, collecting bottles on Poldhu beach in West Cornwall

Justin Whitehouse, lead National Trust Ranger on the Lizard, collecting bottles on Poldhu beach in West Cornwall

Marine litter – key points

  • The litter found per kilometre of UK beaches over the last 20 years has doubled, and this is continuing to increase year on year.
  • Plastic litter on beaches has increased 140% since 1994 and plastic pieces are by far the biggest type of litter found today.
  • Beaches in the South West saw a rise of 89% in litter levels between 2013 and 2014.
  • Litter comes from many sources – the public, fishing activities, sewage pipes and shipping – but it is all preventable.

(Source Marine Conservation Society 2014 Beachwatch Report)

What measures can the government take?

EU legislation requires the UK Government to return UK seas to “Good Environmental Status” by 2020 as part of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The Marine Conservation Society and the National Trust would like to see new measures proposed under this directive to fight marine litter and restore our seas to their former healthy state. We are also urging the government to use its new Litter Strategy to make significant improvements in marine litter.

The 5p charge for single-use plastic bags – 2% of beach litter in 2014, is a step in the right direction. But much more is needed. A nationwide deposit scheme for drinks containers like plastic and glass drinks bottles and aluminium cans – 10% of beach litter in 2014 and better disposal and recycling facilities for both commercial and recreational fishermen – 11% of beach litter in 2014, are just some measures that should be considered to improve the situation in the next five years.

How can you help clean up our beaches?

Beach clean at South Milton Sands, South Devon

Beach clean at South Milton Sands, South Devon




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