More than 16,000 cans and bottles found in four days on UK beaches

Rebecca Smithers
Photograph: Julian Kemp/Alamy

Findings from a national beach cleanup underline the urgent need for a comprehensive deposit return scheme to stem the tide of plastic and glass bottles and cans littering the UK’s coastlines, a marine charity has said.

During four days of beach cleaning in September, volunteers logged more than 16,000 drinks containers of various kinds, the Marine Conservation Society said.

While the dangers of single-use plastic bottles to marine life have been well documented, the MCS said glass bottles and metal cans also posed a threat to marine life, birds, animals and people.

The charity wants glass to be included in any bottle deposit return scheme (DRS). The Scottish government has agreed to this but in England and Wales the proposals have stalled.

Laura Foster, the MCS’s head of clean seas, said: “It’s important to ensure we’re not taking our foot off the pedal to push the UK’s governments to adopt all-inclusive DRS at the earliest possible opportunity.

“The Scottish government’s commitment to an all-inclusive DRS is a fantastic step in the right direction, but it must be designed to include all drinks containers and must not exclude glass. Delaying the implementation of DRS by a year would result in 50m additional empty containers littering our beaches, [so] it’s imperative that the 2021 implementation date is adhered to.”

Now in its 26th consecutive year, the Great British Beach Clean in September was a UK-wide long weekend of coastal cleaning from Land’s End to the Shetland Islands. More than 10,800 volunteers carried out a total of 437 beach cleans and litter surveys and removed 10,833kg (nearly 11 tonnes) of litter.

An average of 558 litter items were found for every 100 metres of beach surveyed. Plastic remained by far the most common form of litter (143 pieces per 100 metres), followed by cigarette butts (42) and glass items (33). There were six drinks cans per 100 metres.

Lizzie Prior, the MCS’s Beachwatch officer, said: “Great British Beach Clean data has been instrumental in pushing for policies and initiatives which have made a real change to the marine environment, including the 5p carrier bag charge.