The UK target for beach litter has not been met. Where the source of litter could be determined, the public are the primary contributor. The persistence of plastic means litter already in the marine environment the effectiveness of any measures will be slow to be reflected in data trends.

Background

This indicator assessment describes the types and amounts of litter on UK beaches and reflects changes in sources of litter found on beaches.

Marine litter can directly harm wildlife by entanglement and ingestion. Entanglement can reduce movement and potentially result in serious injury, death by starvation, drowning or suffocation. Ingestion can lead to internal injuries, a false sense of satiation and reproductive problems.

Coastal communities, many of which rely on the marine environment for their livelihood through tourism, fishing and recreational water sports, are also negatively affected by marine and coastal litter. Revenue is lost through spoilt fish catches, lost tourism income, and damage to property. Sewage-related debris on beaches can have adverse effects on tourism. Local authorities, and ultimately taxpayers, bear the huge financial burden of clearing litter from UK beaches.

Plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade; it’s persistence in the environment means that it accumulates, and levels are difficult to reduce unless the material is physically removed.

Measures for addressing the impacts of litter are described in the UK Marine Strategy Part Three (HM Government, 2015). Since 2012, the carrier bag charges have been introduced across the whole of the UK and a ban on plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products has been introduced. At a regional level, the UK contributes to the implementation of measures through the OSPAR Regional Action Plan. At the national level further measures are being investigated, for example to reduce usage of single-use plastics and cotton bud sticks.


Figure 1. Beach litter in the UK. Photo courtesy of Natasha Ewins, Marine Conservation Society.

Further information

Marine litter or marine debris is any persistent, manufactured, or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, abandoned, or lost in the marine and coastal environment. This also includes items entering the marine environment via rivers, sewage outlets, storm water outlets, or carried by the wind. This indicator assessment describes the types and amounts of litter on UK beaches and reflects changes in litter inputs. The UK Good Environmental Status target for marine litter is for an ‘overall reduction in the number of visible litter items within specific categories/types on coastlines’ (HM Government, 2012).

Data collected

The indicator assessment is based on the abundance of litter. It relies on data (1) for the period between 2008 and 2015, collected on a 100 m stretch of coastline during the annual Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean, which takes place annually on the third weekend of September, also previously used to describe the state of the UK seas (Defra 2005; Defra 2010), and (2) for the period between 2012 and 2014 collected quarterly on beaches Northern Ireland by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.  Summaries of the data sets are given in Tables 1-3.

Table 1.  Greater North Sea summary statistics

Year

No. Surveys

Length (m)

No. items

Items/100m

2008

202

115994

202315

174.4

2009

191

117634

164669

140.0

2010

186

107400

162033

150.9

2011

177

90874

137706

151.5

2012

133

67065

119195

177.7

2013

153

56505

142336

251.9

2014

171

66948

161255

240.9

2015

182

51577

145494

282.1

Table 2. Celtic Seas summary statistics 

Year

No. Surveys

Length (m)

No. items

Items/100m

2008

139

49331

160948

326.3

2009

164

48351

159442

329.8

2010

143

45464

140634

309.3

2011

126

41136

98743

240.0

2012

90

20765

59453

286.3

2013

80

33491

77279

230.7

2014

109

37105

107873

290.7

2015

123

26955

99081

367.6

Table 3.  Northern Ireland summary statistics

Year

No. Surveys

Length (m)

No. items

Items/100m

2012 Autumn

14

1400

5920

422.9

2012 Winter

13

1300

4864

374.2

2013 Spring

14

1400

6347

453.4

2013 Summer

14

1400

4354

311.0

2013 Autumn

14

1400

4366

311.9

2013 Winter

15

1500

12559

837.3

2014 Spring

14

1400

7035

502.5

2014 Summer

14

1400

5991

427.9

2014 Autumn

12

1200

3188

265.7

The surveys record all litter items found on designated stretches of beaches and can be used to assess marine/beach litter pollution. The data collected provides information on amounts, types, and sources of marine litter as well as trends in abundance. The composition of the litter recorded on the beaches can provide information on specific litter items that include plastic bags and aluminium cans, or on litter materials, such as plastic and wood. This, in turn can provide information on the source of litter items and to a certain extent on its level of threat to the environment. For example, informing us that wood is not as harmful to the marine environment as plastic.

Spatial differences in composition between survey sites can be related to regional differences in sources or human habits. However, it is important to note that a given survey site or region can be subject to litter pollution from various sources. These sources can be local, regional, or further afield. Changes in the composition can provide information on variations in sources and shifts in types of litter, such as plastic bottles replacing glass bottles, or the introduction of new litter items such as disposable barbeques.

Trends in the abundance and composition of beach litter can provide information on changes of the level of pollution and can also indicate which litter reduction measures are needed and whether these are successful or not.

Sources of beach litter

  • the sea, transported to and deposited on the coast by winds and water currents,
  • illegal dumping. Items deposited directly on the coast by the public.
  • deposition inland on streets, countryside, riverbanks and directly into rivers and then transportation by rivers and wind into the marine environment or onto the beach

Between any two surveys on a given beach, litter items that have been washed ashore or deposited onto the beach can be buried, washed, or blown away by subsequent tides and winds. During strong wave action, litter can be buried or resurface (Williams and Tudor, 2001), and litter can be blown onto a site from adjacent land or streets. Therefore, the number of litter items recorded during any one survey will constitute a minimum value for litter being deposited at the site, as litter is continuously being moved and relocated by forces operating on the beach.

The litter washed ashore is probably biased towards litter items that float and those that do not disintegrate, dissolve, or decay quickly in the marine environment. The main categories of litter found on UK beaches and beaches in the entire OSPAR region are plastic and polystyrene. The main components of the other common categories all float and/or disintegrate slowly. For example, sewage-related debris, metal, glass, and wood.

The composition of litter recorded on beaches thus reflects in part its ability to reach the shore. Metal and glass are probably underrepresented because they are more likely to sink before they reach the shore than are items made of plastic and polystyrene. Paper may also be underrepresented because some paper litter will disintegrate rapidly in water.

Although only a proportion of litter will reach the shore to be monitored, the abundance of the items found can be used as an indication of the level of marine litter pollution if it is assumed that the recorded items constitute a constant proportion of the total litter input to the environment. Trends in litter abundance can assist in both drawing comparison with other regions, while documenting changes in the input of litter into the marine environment by different sources. This information can be used to initiate effective litter reduction measures and to test the effectiveness of existing legislation, regulations and measures.

Assessment method

The Marine Conservation Society has been collecting data on marine litter through Beachwatch since 1994 and has amassed a large bank of data detailing both type and source of litter to be found on UK beaches. The protocols and methodology used are compatible with other systems on a European and worldwide basis. The methodology formed the basis of the OSPAR methodology and was also used for the assessments produced for Defra on the state of the UK seas (Defra, 2005, UKMMAS, 2010).

Through the Beachwatch project, local people, groups, and companies volunteer to undertake beach cleans and litter surveys of their chosen beach and generally undertake surveys four times a year. Each beach has a designated organiser who is provided with details on:

  • how to organise and carry out a beach clean, including - gaining permission to carry out a clean, how to give a safety briefing, how to fill in the forms, what and where to clean, what and what not to pick up.
  • how to carry out a risk assessment.
  • survey sheets.
  • litter ID sheets.
  • parental consent forms.
  • MCS insurance information.
  • photo guides are available to assist surveyors with the identification and categorisation of litter items.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB) have carried out quarterly beach litter surveys for UK Marine Strategy Framework Directive monitoring since Autumn 2012.  Fourteen beaches were chosen based on their location, profile, and ease of access for cleaning. Popular visitor beaches were not considered as the litter on these beaches would be affected by both visitors leaving terrestrial litter and the actions of local authorities in cleaning them.

Methodology in brief

The methodologies used by the Marine Conservation Society and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are the same with the exception that wet wipes which are monitored as a separate item in Northern Ireland.

  • survey sites are limited to a section of beach that is 100 m in length. The entire area from the strandline to the back of the beach is surveyed, whereby the back of the beach is determined by, for example, the presence of dunes or a sea wall. The same section must be used each time for monitoring purposes.
  • using the survey sheets provided every item of litter in the 100 m stretch is picked up and noted down. There is also space on the sheet for unusual items, such as dead or stranded animals.
  • results are uploaded to the OSPAR Beach Litter Database.

The data sheets categorise litter items according to material type, for example plastics, metal, or sanitary. Each material type is then broken down into specific objects, that include bottles, crisp packets or cotton bud sticks.

The items recorded can be assigned to either a material type, such as plastic, wood, or metal, or to an item source, like public, fishing, and sanitary. In total, there are over 100 predefined litter item types that are recorded during the 100 m surveys, including identifiable objects and litter fragments. It is important to note that some litter items categorised as sanitary and medical are made of materials listed individually. For example, the litter item cotton bud sticks (CBS), which are a major component of sewage-related debris (SRD), are included in the sanitary category, even though they are predominately made of plastic. In this case, the litter item has been captured in a separate category to link the item type to its sources, with the aim of enabling the development of suitable litter reduction measures.

Other criteria recorded include the total number of litter items in each material category, dead/entangled animals, weather conditions on the day, and the number of volunteers.

The items are sourced as follows:

  • Public litter - Items dropped or left by the public on the coast or inland and carried by winds and rivers.
  • Fishing litter - Includes commercial and recreational items – such as fishing line, nets, rope, weights, and buoys.
  • Sewage Related Debris (SRD) - Items flushed down the toilet such as cotton bud sticks, tampons, and panty liners.
  • Shipping - Items dropped or lost from ships.
  • Fly tipped - Illegal disposal of waste including furnishings, pottery, and ceramics.
  • Medical - Includes anything medical such as inhalers, plasters and syringes.
  • Non-sourced - Items too small or damaged to identify or items that remain difficult to identify where they have come from.

All items found on the sampling unit are registered on the survey forms. The survey forms allow for the registration of identifiable items, unknown items and litter fragments in different size categories. Each item has a unique identification number. Litter items found during the surveys, which do not fit into a definite category, are registered on the survey forms under the litter item “other” for the given material or use category. A short description of these items is included on the survey form.

Physical characteristics of the survey can influence deposition and retention levels of litter, for example, rocky coasts with sandy bays have the potential to accumulate and retain more litter than long open sandy beaches. Furthermore, water currents, weather conditions, and prevailing wind conditions can have a significant influence on the deposition and retention of litter and therefore litter abundance. This is also true of beach use and proximity to point and diffuse sources such as towns.

For these reasons, the location and physical and geographical characteristics of each reference beach are recorded in detail. This information includes the proximity of possible sources of marine litter to the beach, as well as other factors that could help explain the amount, type, and composition of marine litter found. It is recommended that these parameters are also considered in future assessments.

Data from between 2008 and 2015 was used for the assessment of trends in abundance of litter items, trends in groups of litter items, or trends in material categories in the Greater North Sea and Celtic Sea regions. Trends in abundance were calculated for the specific litter items: plastic carrier bags, plastic drinks bottles and cotton bud sticks – a major component of sewage related debris. In addition, trends in abundance were calculated for the different categories of litter items, Including the material the litter is made of such as plastic, wood or metal and the sources of litter that cover public, fishing, shipping, SRD, non-sourced, medical, and fly-tipped.

Because survey sites were not randomly selected, results are representative only of the monitored beaches, not the region in general. Because fixed monitoring locations are used, the results are spatially biased. The use of fixed stations does, however, improve trend analysis, compared to the case of randomly selected sites which would exhibit spatial variation.

Results

In the 2012 UK initial assessment, levels of marine litter were considered problematic in all areas where there were systematic surveys of beached litter density. There was limited information from the northern part of the Celtic Seas sub-region due to a low number of accessible beaches in this area. Latest findings for the Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas indicate that the average total abundance of litter items per 100m of coast varies considerably around the UK. Greater quantities were recorded in the Celtic Seas region (average 296/100 m ranging between 230 and 367) than in the Greater North Sea region (average 196 items/100 m ranging from 140 to 282). In the Celtic Seas after showing some decrease from 2011 to 2013 litter levels have risen to 2008 levels, while in the Greater North Sea area there has been an increase in litter levels.

The Northern Ireland data shows that apart from a peak in winter 2013 litter levels have remained at much the same levels from 2012 to 2014, averaging around 387 items/100m. The 2013 winter peak is mainly due to a large increase in the number of plastic fragments recorded together with an increase in the number of plastic drinks bottles and lids. Winter storms are likely to have caused more litter to have been washed onto shore.

In the Great North Sea and Celtic Seas, the majority of litter items were made of plastic or polystyrene. Plastic and polystyrene fragments are the most commonly found type of litter item, followed by food and drinks packaging, sewage related debris and then smaller amounts of fishing-related litter. Packaging mainly consists of plastic items including caps and lids, drinks bottles, food containers and crisp/sweet packets/lolly sticks. Cotton bud sticks, an indication of sewage-related debris,show a marked decrease from 2012 in the Celtic Seas while increasing in the Greater North seas during the same period. Plastic drinks bottles are among the most recorded items at all survey sites but show no significant trends in abundance. The number of plastic bags has remained fairly constant in the Celtic Seas, while increasing slightly in the Greater North Seas.

As with the UK data on Northern Ireland Beaches, the most common litter materials are plastics (including polystyrene). Fragments of these are the most common litter items found along with high numbers of plastic string pieces. Plastic drink bottles along with plastic lids, crisp and sweet packets, lolly sticks, cotton bud sticks, and metal cans are always among the top twenty items found. Items found more commonly in Northern Ireland on these beaches include shotgun cartridges and thick rubber gloves (generally assigned to the fishing industry).

Further information

Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas

The total number of litter items recorded per 100m survey varies greatly between survey sites. The average total abundance of litter items per 100m of coast varies considerably around the UK with greater quantities being recorded in the recorded in the Celtic Seas region (av. 296/100m ranging between 230 and 367) than the Greater North Sea region (average: 196 items/100m ranging from 140 to 282). In the Celtic Seas litter levels after showing some decrease from 2011 to 2013 have risen to 2008 levels while in the Greater North Sea area there has been an increase in litter levels (Figure 2).

Figure. 2. Items/100m in Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas

In all beach litter regions, the majority of litter items were made of plastic or polystyrene (Tables 4 & 5). Plastic and polystyrene fragments are the most commonly found type of litter item, followed by food and drinks packaging, sewage related debris and then smaller amounts of fishing-related litter. Packaging mainly consists of plastic items including caps and lids, drinks bottles, food containers, and crisp and sweet packets and lolly sticks. Cotton bus sticks, indicating more sewage related debris, show a marked decrease from 2012 in the Celtic Seas while increasing in the Greater North Seas during the same period.

Table 4. Percentage of main litter types - Greater North Sea. Note: polystyrene is a type of plastic but is separated out for monitoring purposes.

Year

Plastic

Polystyrene

Rubber

Cloth

Meta

Medical

SRD

Faeces

Paper

Wood

Glass

Pottery

2008

60.6

7.8

2.4

4.7

6

0.2

4.1

0

4.9

2.8

5.9

0.6

2009

59.4

7.3

2

2.3

7.7

0.2

4

0.4

8.9

2.6

4.6

0.6

2010

59.5

8.8

2.3

2.7

7.3

0.2

7

0.3

5.1

2.5

3.7

0.6

2011

60

8.9

2.8

2.5

7.4

0.2

3.9

0.3

4.6

3

5.7

0.8

2012

60.3

7.8

2.1

2.7

7.4

0.2

4.8

0.5

7

3.5

3.6

0.3

2013

58.8

9.4

2.4

2.9

6.1

0.2

4.5

0.3

7.5

2.6

4.7

0.5

2014

55.9

6.8

2.6

2.9

6.9

0.2

6.1

0.3

8.8

2.8

6

0.7

2015

57.6

6.9

2.5

4.2

6.2

0.2

6

0.3

4.6

2.5

7.9

1.1

Table 5. Percentage of main litter types - Celtic Seas. Note: polystyrene is a type of plastic but is separated out for monitoring purposes

Year

Plastic

Polystyrene

Rubber

Cloth

Metal

Medical

SRD

Faeces

Paper

Wood

Glass

Pottery

2008

62.5

12.8

1.6

2.4

4.4

0.1

9.7

0

2.2

1.5

2.3

0.5

2009

69

8.2

1.6

1.4

4.6

0.1

7.4

0.1

3.5

1.3

2.5

0.2

2010

68.3

8.9

1.1

1.3

4.3

0.2

8.4

0.1

2

1

3.7

0.5

2011

63.7

10.5

1.7

1.5

5.4

0.2

7.6

0.2

2.8

1.6

4.1

0.7

2012

69.5

7.2

1.9

1.6

4.7

0.2

4.1

0.2

4.4

1.5

4.3

0.3

2013

69.2

9.6

1.7

1.5

5.5

0.2

4.2

0.1

2.9

1.4

3.1

0.6

2014

67.3

8.9

1.9

2.3

4.4

0.2

4.5

0.2

4.9

1.8

2.9

0.6

2015

67

6.5

1.6

1.7

5.8

0.2

4.2

0.2

4.1

1.4

6.7

0.7

Litter/100m has remained relatively consistent but high in the Celtic Seas averaging 296/100m ranging between 230 and 367. There are no significant increases or decreases in the amount of litter recorded. Table 1, Figure 2. Overall there is less litter recorded in the Greater North Sea region averaging 196 items/100m ranging from 140 to 282. However, there has been an increase in litter levels from 174.4 in 2008 to 282.1 in 2015, (Table 2, Figure 2).

Of the litter where a source could be identified, the public were noted as being the predominant cause of beach litter (~30-50%). Fishing related litter, litter from commercial and recreational fishing activities (~9-20%) was identified as a significant source with Sewage related debris (~4-10%) and shipping inputs (~1.5-4.5%) contributing to the load. Small amounts of medical and fly-tipped litter were also recorded. Every year there was a large percentage of litter that is either unidentifiable or that could have come from multiple sources, (Tables 6 & 7).

Table 6. Percentage of main litter sources - Greater North Sea

Year

Public

Fishing

Non-Sourced

SRD %

Shipping %

Fly Tipped

Medical

2012 Autumn

27.5

12.8

44.2

9.3

4.7

1.3

0.2

2012 Winter

35.6

13.6

37.0

5.3

6.8

1.6

0.1

2013 Spring

36.7

18.6

31.2

4.3

7.7

1.2

0.2

2013 Summer

36.6

24.3

24.6

4.0

7.9

2.4

0.3

2013 Autumn

32.8

19.9

33.9

4.8

7.6

0.8

0.2

2013 Winter

30.7

9.0

46.8

7.6

4.5

1.4

0.0

2014 Spring

30.4

25.0

33.9

2.4

6.4

1.6

0.2

2014 Summer

30.2

26.2

31.2

1.1

6.3

4.8

0.2

2014 Autumn

38.9

19.9

29.7

1.1

8.2

2.2

0.0

Table 7. Percentage of main litter sources - Celtic Seas

Year

Public

Fishing

Non-Sourced

SRD

Shipping

Fly Tipped

Medical

2008

29.2

14.7

44.1

9.7

1.4

0.8

0.1

2009

34.6

19.8

35.5

7.4

2.1

0.5

0.1

2010

35.4

17.4

36

8.4

1.7

0.8

0.2

2011

37.9

13

37.5

7.6

2.8

1.1

0.2

2012

37.6

16.1

37.6

4.1

3.8

0.6

0.2

2013

36.5

18.3

35.6

4.2

4.3

0.9

0.2

2014

33.4

13.8

42.5

4.5

4.7

0.9

0.2

2015

38.9

13.7

37.7

4.2

4.3

1

0.2

Most of the litter items in all areas are either made of plastic or contain plastic, with plastic pieces, thin string and cord (diameter <1cm), drinks bottles and caps, crisp/sweet/lolly/sandwich wrappers, and cotton bud sticks appearing in the top ten lists. Glass pieces in the Greater North Sea are the only non-plastic items to appear in the top ten, (Table 8).

Table 8. Top Ten Litter Items - Celtic Seas and Greater North Sea.

No

Celtic Seas Top Ten Items 2008 - 2015

Greater North Sea Top Ten Items 2008 - 2015

1

Plastic pieces

Plastic pieces

2

Plastic caps & lids

Glass pieces

3

Small pieces of fishing net <50cm

Crisp/sweet/lolly/sandwich wrappers

4

Plastic string/cord diam <1cm

Plastic string/cord diam <1cm

5

Polystyrene pieces

Polystyrene pieces

6

Crisp/sweet/lolly/sandwich wrappers

Plastic caps & lids

7

Cotton bud sticks

Cigarette stubs

8

Plastic drink bottles

Plastic drink bottles

9

Plastic cutlery/trays/straws/cups

Fishing line

10

Large pieces of fishing net >50cm

Cotton bud sticks

Figure 3a. Cotton Bud Sticks in the Greater North Sea

 

Figure 3b. Cotton Bud Sticks in the Celtic Seas

Drinks bottles are among the most recorded items at all survey sites, but although showing variation in items/100m over the time period, they show no significant trend in decrease or increase, (Figures 4a & b).

Figure 4a. Plastic drinks bottles in the Greater North Sea

 

Figure 4b. Plastic drinks bottles in the Celtic Seas

Plastic carrier bags per 100m have remained fairly constant in the Celtic Seas while they have increased slightly in the Greater North Seas, (Figures 5a & b).

Figure 5a. Plastic carrier bags in the Greater North Sea

 

Figure 5b. Plastic carrier bags in the Celtic Seas

Other items of interest

Cigarette ends are found in the top 20 of both regions and in the Greater North Sea range from 2.89/100m to 12.24/100m and in the Celtic Seas from 2.55/100m to 8.69/100m. In both areas, there was an increase in items/100m in 2012.

Balloons are some of the most obvious and easily identifiable items found on a beach. In the Greater North Sea, they make up 0.73/100m and 1.77/100m of litter with a slight increase over time and in the Celtic Seas slightly higher numbers are found from 0.97/100m to 1.8/100m. Wet wipes do seem to be increasing in numbers in both areas ranging from 1.01/100m in 2008 to 3.91/100m in 2015 in the Greater North Seas and from 4.96/100m in 2008 to 8.69/100m in 2015 in the Celtic Seas.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland data shows that apart from a peak in winter 2013 litter levels have remained relatively constant from 2012 to 2014, averaging around 387 items/100m. The 2013 winter peak is mainly due to a large increase in the number of plastic fragments recorded together with an increase in the number of plastic drinks bottles and lids (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Items/100m in Northern Ireland

As with the general UK data, the most common litter materials are plastics (including polystyrene) (Table 9). Fragments of these are the most common litter found, along with high numbers of plastic string pieces. Plastic drink bottles, along with plastic lids, crisp/sweet packets, lolly sticks, cotton bud sticks, and metal cans are always among the top twenty items found. Items found more commonly on these beaches than the UK include shotgun cartridges and thick rubber gloves (generally assigned to the fishing industry).

Table 9. Percentage of main litter types - Northern Ireland.

Year

Plastic

Rubber

Cloth

Metal

Medical

SRD

Feces

Paper

Wood

Glass

Pottery

2012 Autumn

67.5

2.5

2.6

5.0

0.2

9.3

0.1

0.7

1.0

7.9

3.3

2012 Winter

73.3

2.0

1.6

8.3

0.1

5.3

0.1

0.8

1.6

5.8

1.2

2013 Spring

76.5

2.6

3.0

6.2

0.2

4.3

0.0

0.6

1.6

4.0

0.9

2013 Summer

77.0

1.6

1.7

7.2

0.3

4.0

0.3

0.8

1.7

4.1

1.3

2013 Autumn

78.1

2.0

3.1

6.7

0.2

4.8

0.0

0.4

1.5

2.8

0.3

2013 Winter

82.8

0.9

1.3

4.0

0.0

7.6

0.1

0.1

1.3

0.7

1.2

2014 Spring

78.9

3.5

3.9

7.0

0.2

2.4

0.1

1.0

1.7

0.9

0.5

2014 Summer

76.8

3.3

3.0

7.5

0.2

1.1

0.0

1.2

2.5

1.2

3.4

2014 Autumn

80.8

1.9

3.9

5.7

0.0

1.1

0.2

0.7

0.8

2.2

2.7

The public are the greatest contributor of identifiable litter on the Northern Ireland beaches. This includes litter directly left on the beach and that dropped inland and blown or swept by wind and waterways out to the beaches. The next most significant litter source is fishing litter in the form of fishing lines, and rubber gloves. The fishing lines probably originate from recreational fishers while it is likely that the gloves come from the commercial fishing industry. Sewage related debris and shipping also important sources, as well as with small amounts of fly-tipped and medical litter. Every year a large percentage is “non-sourced” which is to say: either unidentifiable or from a mixture of sources, (Table 10).

Table 10. Percentage of main litter sources - Northern Ireland.

Year

Public

Fishing

Non-Sourced

SRD %

Shipping %

Fly Tipped

Medical

2012 Autumn

27.5

12.8

44.2

9.3

4.7

1.3

0.2

2012 Winter

35.6

13.6

37.0

5.3

6.8

1.6

0.1

2013 Spring

36.7

18.6

31.2

4.3

7.7

1.2

0.2

2013 Summer

36.6

24.3

24.6

4.0

7.9

2.4

0.3

2013 Autumn

32.8

19.9

33.9

4.8

7.6

0.8

0.2

2013 Winter

30.7

9.0

46.8

7.6

4.5

1.4

0.0

2014 Spring

30.4

25.0

33.9

2.4

6.4

1.6

0.2

2014 Summer

30.2

26.2

31.2

1.1

6.3

4.8

0.2

2014 Autumn

38.9

19.9

29.7

1.1

8.2

2.2

0.0

The most common items of litter found in Northern Ireland are shown in Table 11. Metal drinks cans are the only non-plastic items to appear in the top ten. Apart from the 2013 winter peak, cotton bud sticks have shown a general decrease in Northern Ireland beaches in common with most of the Celtic Sea region (Figure 7). Plastic drinks bottles have shown a slight increase in numbers during 2012 to 2014 (again, ignoring the 2013 winter peak) (Figure 8). There are some fluctuations in the number of plastic bags found per 100m during the time series (Figure 9). While a carrier bag levy was brought into effect in Spring 2013, more quarterly data will be required over a longer period to exclude seasonal variations and establish the impact of this measure. Cigarette ends do not appear in the top 20 items in Northern Ireland and seem to show a slight drop during the winter surveys, perhaps indicating fewer people smoking outside during the winter months. Balloons are a relatively small proportion of the litter on Northern Ireland beaches ranging from 0.5 to 3.14 items per 100m with a small peak in summer 2014 (3.14/100m).

Table 11. Top ten litter items – Northern Ireland.

No

Northern Ireland Top Ten Items 2012 - 2014

1

Plastic pieces

2

Plastic string/cord diam<1cm

3

Plastic drink bottles

4

Plastic caps & lids

5

Crisp/sweet/lolly/sandwich wrappers

6

Plastic rope diam>1cm

7

Cotton bud sticks

8

Metal drink cans

9

Plastic food containers

10

Fishing line

Figure 7. Cotton bud sticks in Northern Ireland.

 

Figure 8. Plastic drinks bottles in Northern Ireland.

 

Figure 9. Plastic carrier bags in Northern Ireland

Conclusions

Litter surveys on UK beaches indicate that litter pollution is still common and is not decreasing. The main litter types recorded are fragments of litter, mainly plastic and polystyrene, and food and drinks packaging.

There are large numbers of litter items considered harmful to the marine environment due to their potential threat of entanglement, ingestion, or injury. This is in addition to the socio-economic harm that all litter items cause through lost revenue and additional costs such as thorough beach litter cleaning.

The implementation of national measures, including the charge on plastic bags and those taken through the ‘OSPAR Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter’ should contribute to reductions in the quantities of litter in the coming years.

Further information

Although reductions in beach litter quantities may be seen in the future due to the implementation of various policies, it must be noted that there will probably be a time lag in seeing the effects of certain measures due to a large amount of litter already circulating in our seas.

The OSPAR Regional Action Plan measures targeting litter from fishing activities, and measures targeting packaging should have the largest effect on the magnitude of litter pollution if successful. In some regions measures targeting input via wastewater outlets and smoking-related litter could have significant effects on the magnitude of litter recorded on coastal survey sites. Packaging can have a multitude of sources, sea-based as well as land-based. The most effective measures will tackle the sources and pathways of introduction of packaging. It may also be useful to look for more local/regional solutions for the UK. Given the effectiveness of the carrier bag charges it may well be worthwhile looking at other economic instruments to reduce litter.

The high numbers of cotton bud sticks recorded indicate that sewage systems, particularly combined sewer overflows, are still a problem around the UK.

In future, it will be possible to use quarterly data from the whole of the UK to assess litter levels.

Knowledge gaps

Distribution and number of survey sites

There is a lack of surveyed beaches along much of North-West Scotland. This is often a question of access to these areas and although increased numbers may give a better picture of the beach and marine litter, access could be problematic.

Further information

Improved identification of sources

Sourcing litter items is a difficult task, and it is almost impossible to determine with 10% accuracy the source of any given litter item. The Marine Conservation Society’s sourcing protocols give a good general idea of the main sources of litter found on UK beaches, but the use of a ‘Matrix Scoring Technique’ to determine litter sources (Tudor and Williams, 2004) should be considered on the basis of the report produced by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive Task Group on Marine Litter (Veiga and others, 2016).

Improved knowledge of harm caused by different types of litter items

The assessment of the harm to a particular litter items cause will need to be assessed, and the report of the ‘MSFD Task Group on Marine Litter’ (Werner and others, 2016) will be useful to support this area.

References

Defra (2005) ‘Charting Progress. An Integrated Assessment of the State of UK Seas’ (viewed on 27 July 2018)

HM Government (2015) ‘Marine Strategy Part Three: UK Programme of Measures’ December 2015. (viewed on 27 July 2018)

Tudor DT, Williams AT (2004) ‘Development of a ‘Matrix Scoring Technique’ to determine litter sources at a Bristol Channel beach’ Journal of Coastal Conservation Volume 10, Issue 1, pages 119–127 (viewed on 30 July 2018)

UKMMAS (2010) ‘Charting Progress 2. The State of UK seas’ (viewed on 27 July 2018)

Veiga JM, Fleet D, Kinsey S, Nilsson P, Vlachogianni T, Werner S, Galgani F, Thompson RC, Dagevos J, Gago J, Sobral P, Cronin R (2016) ‘Identifying Sources of Marine Litter’ MSFD GES TG Marine Litter Thematic Report, JRC Technical Report (viewed on 30 July 2018)

Williams AT, Tudor DT (2001) ‘Litter burial and exhumation: spatial and temporal distribution on a cobble pocket beach’ Marine Pollution Bulletin 42(11):1031-9 (viewed on 27 July 2018)

Werner S, Budziak A, van Franeker J, Galgani F, Hanke G, Maes T, Matiddi M, Nilsson P, Oosterbaan L, Priestland E, Thompson R, Veiga J, Vlachogianni T (2016) ‘Harm caused by Marine Litter. MSFD GES TG Marine Litter - Thematic Report’ JRC Technical report (viewed on 27 July 2018)

Acknowledgements

Assessment metadata
Assessment TypeUK Marine Strategy Framework Directive Indicator Assessment
 

D10 Litter

 

D10.1 - Characteristics of litter in the marine and coastal environment

 

European Commission decision 2017/848 states that:

  • “D10C1 — Primary: The composition, amount and spatial distribution of litter on the coastline, in the surface layer of the water column, and on the seabed, are at levels that do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment.”
  • “Member States shall establish threshold values for these levels through cooperation at Union level, taking into account regional or subregional specificities. “

Full reference: European Commission (2017) ‘Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848 of 17 May 2017 laying down criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment, and repealing Decision 2010/477/EU (Text with EEA relevance)’ C/2017/2901, Official Journal of the European Union, L 125, 18.5.2017, pages 43–74 (viewed on 13 January 2019)

The OSPAR objective with regard to marine litter, as laid down in the Strategy for the protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic for the years 2010-2020, is “to substantially reduce marine litter in the OSPAR maritime area to levels where properties and quantities do not cause harm to the marine environment”. (full reference: OSPAR Commission (2010) ‘The North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy: Strategy of the OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic 2010-2020’ OSPAR Agreement 2010-3 (viewed on 13 January 2019))

Point of contact emailmarinestrategy@defra.gov.uk
Metadata dateTuesday, May 1, 2018
TitleUK Beach Litter assessment sheet
Resource abstract

Assessment of beach litter amounts, types and sources around the UK divided onto the regions Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas. Looks at changes in litter over time and top 10 litter items for each region.

Linkage

In addition to links provided in ‘References’ section above:

OSPAR Commission (2014) ‘Regional Action Plan (RAP) for Marine Litter’ for the period 2014-2012 (viewed on 13 January 2019)

Conditions applying to access and use

© Crown 2018 copyright Defra, licenced under the Open Government Licence (OGL).

Assessment Lineage

Beach litter data from two sources - Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and OSPAR beach litter databases. Both use same methodology of picking and noting litter from designated 100m stretches of beach up to 4 times a year. Surveyors upload results to databases which have in built restrictions to increase data quality and reduce erroneous entries. Information on the specific beaches also kept. MCS data goes back to 1994, OSPAR data to 2001.

Indicator assessment results
Dataset metadata

The OSPAR Beach Litter Database: https://www.mcsuk.org/ospar/

Links to datasets identifiers

The OSPAR Beach Litter Database: https://www.mcsuk.org/ospar/

Dataset DOIContact marinestrategy@defra.gov.uk

The Metadata are “data about the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of data” (FGDC Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata Workbook, Ver 2.0, May 1, 2000).

Metadata definitions

Assessment Lineage - description of data sets and method used to obtain the results of the assessment

Dataset – The datasets included in the assessment should be accessible, and reflect the exact copies or versions of the data used in the assessment. This means that if extracts from existing data were modified, filtered, or otherwise altered, then the modified data should be separately accessible, and described by metadata (acknowledging the originators of the raw data).

Dataset metadata – information on the data sources and characteristics of data sets used in the assessment (MEDIN and INSPIRE compliance).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI) – a persistent identifier to provide a link to a dataset (or other resource) on digital networks. Please note that persistent identifiers can be created/minted, even if a dataset is not directly available online.

Indicator assessment metadata – data and information about the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of an indicator assessment.

MEDIN discovery metadata - a list of standardized information that accompanies a marine dataset and allows other people to find out what the dataset contains, where it was collected and how they can get hold of it.

Recommended reference for this indicator assessment

Sue Kinsey1 2018. Beach Litter- Abundance, Composition and Trends. UK Marine Online Assessment Tool, available at: https://moat.cefas.co.uk/pressures-from-human-activities/marine-litter/beach-litter/

1Marine Conservation Society