MCS Beach Clean data reveals urgent need for all-inclusive UK Deposit Return Scheme


Photo: Natasha Ewins

The UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has released the results of its most recent Great British Beach Clean, a UK-wide weekend of coastal cleaning from Land’s End to the Shetland Islands and from Northern Ireland to the Channel Islands.

This year the Great British Beach Clean saw 437 beach cleans and litter surveys take place with over 10,800 volunteers getting involved to remove 10,833 kg of litter from the UK’s beaches…. That’s almost 11 tonnes of litter in one weekend alone. Over the past 26 years MCS has invited volunteers to become citizen scientists and not only clear the beach of litter, but record what they collect, providing valuable data to the charity on what’s polluting the UK’s beaches.

The five most common items per 100m of UK beach:

  1. Plastic/polystyrene pieces (0-50cm) – 143 per 100m
  2. Cigarette stubs – 42.6 per 100m
  3. Glass items (other) – 33.4 per 100m
  4. Plastic/polystyrene string – 32.6 per 100m
  5. Packaging (crisps, sweets, lollies and sandwiches) – 30.9 per 100m

Photo: Natasha Ewins

Data from this year’s Great British Beach Clean illustrates the urgent need for the UK’s Governments to implement an all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) which would not only minimise single-use plastic bottles littering the beaches, but would remove all types of drinks containers from the UK coastline including glass and cans. Over just one weekend of beach cleaning, MCS volunteers recorded over 16,000 drinks containers of varying forms and an average of four glass bottles for every 100m of beach surveyed. Whilst the potential dangers of single-use plastic bottles have been well documented, glass bottles and cans are equally as dangerous for not only marine life, but for beach visitors.

Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas said:

“It’s so important to ensure that 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 50 million additional empty containers littering our beaches, it’s imperative that the planned 2021 implementation date is adhered to.”

“The consultation on a Deposit Return Scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland earlier this year received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public, with over 207,000 responses in favour of an all-inclusive DRS.  Disappointingly, the development of DRS for England and Wales has stalled, with the current Government indicating it would need to gather further evidence and to consult further before introducing DRS, the general election has added further delay. Around the world, 40 countries have DRS in place, significantly reducing litter levels and increasing recycling rates. In the meantime, a climate emergency has been declared and our data illustrates that drinks containers continue to pollute our marine environment whilst policy stalls.  Other countries have rolled out DRS and we need to act now. DRS should be one of the first policies implemented following the upcoming general election to protect our environment and kick-start behaviour change.”

At this year’s Great British Beach Clean 558 litter items were found per 100m of beach surveyed in the UK, illustrating why it is so important to continue fighting to reduce pollution on our beaches and to implement measures to stop marine pollution at source.  Whilst plastic pieces remain the most prolific form of litter (143 pieces found per 100m of beach), cigarette stubs (42 per 100m) and glass items (other) (33 per 100m) make up the top three most common litter items on UK beaches, illustrating the need for further policies, initiatives and bans to be put in place to reduce all forms of beach litter.

Lizzie Prior, Beachwatch Officer said:

“Great British Beach Clean data over the last 26 years 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. We hope that this year’s data, when compared with the state of the UK’s beaches 26 years ago, will encourage even more people to get involved in our year round Beachwatch programme to help us gather important data and keep the UK’s beaches beautiful for generations to come.”

Thanks to the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch programme can conduct beach cleans year-round, gathering data which supports the charity’s campaigning to stop marine pollution at source.

For more information on the Great British Beach Clean and its 26 years of data, and to find beach cleans happening near you, please visit

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