The UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), is looking for thousands of volunteers to clean up the nation’s beaches during its 2019 Great British Beach Clean event (20th -23rd September).
Last year, 15,000 volunteers took part, that was double the number in 2017. They removed an incredible 8,550 kilos of litter from beaches around the UK.
The Great British Beach Clean is not just a beach cleaning event. Volunteer cleaners become citizen scientists, as they also record the litter they find along a designated 100m stretch of every beach that’s cleaned, and it’s this aspect that has helped MCS change policy and behaviours over the last 25 years. Last year, 600 items of litter were found on every 100 metres.
The 5p carrier bag charge, a ban on microbeads in wash-off products, consultations on a plastic tax, commitments to deposit return schemes, reduction in the use of plastic straws and the banning of lantern and balloon releases – all have come about following compelling evidence gathered over decades by volunteers at MCS beach cleans. Since 2011, when the 5p single-use carrier bag charge was first introduced, there’s been a decrease of almost 50% in plastic bags found on UK beaches.
494 beaches around the UK coast were cleaned in 2018 (155 more than in 2017), making last year’s Great British Beach Clean the biggest MCS had ever organised. Thanks to programmes like Blue Planet II, beach cleaning has become a cool thing to do, says MCS.
Beach cleans take place from Cornwall to Cumbria, Denbighshire to County Down, Hampshire to the Highlands and all places in between. The event incorporates the Great Channel Islands Beach Clean and the Great Northern Irish Beach Clean.
This year, for the first time, the Great British Beach Clean will be sponsored by the Ocado Foundation, the charitable arm of the online supermarket. The Foundation will be sponsoring the event to the tune of £300,000 as part of the Environmental Pillar of its ‘Ocado Way – Corporate Responsibility Strategy’.
Less litter on UK beaches will save the lives of some of our best loved marine wildlife, protect our kids when they’re building sand castles and show the world what the great British seaside really looks like beneath its escalating mountain of rubbish, says Lizzie Prior, MCS Beachwatch Officer. “Taking part in the Great British Beach Clean really can make a difference. In previous years when we’ve highlighted increases in dog poo bags and sewage related debris found on beaches, we’ve seen drops in numbers subsequently. Due to the massive increase in wet wipes we found between 2013 and 2015, we were able to launch our ‘Wet Wipes Turn Nasty’ campaign which has resulted in improvements in labelling, removal of plastic from ‘flushable’ wet wipes in retailers’ own brands, and helped introduce the ‘Fine to Flush’ logo – a water industry standard.”
Cleaning and surveying a beach only takes a couple of hours at most. Each beach has a coordinator, who explains how to fill in a simple data form, and then it’s just a case of grabbing a litter picker and a bin bag and filling it up with rubbish. And even if the beach looks clean at first glance, you can be sure it really isn’t!
“Beach litter is a serious environmental problem,” says Lizzie Prior. “But the solution is in our hands. We want the 26th Great British Beach Clean weekend to be the biggest ever. The BBC’s Blue Planet II and subsequent programmes have given the UK public a real understanding of the pollution crisis facing our oceans and now people want to make a difference. The more volunteers we have, the better it’ll be for our seas.”
Suzanne Westlake, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Corporate Affairs, said on behalf of the Ocado Foundation: “We’re delighted to be teaming up with the Marine Conservation Society on the GBBC. As a retailer we take our responsibilities with waste very seriously. We are very proud to be part of the event and the clean-up of Britain’s beaches it will achieve.”
Players of People’s Postcode Lottery also support the Marine Conservation Society beach litter programme.
Sign up to a clean near you at: www.mcsuk.org/greatbritishbeachclean and if you can’t find an event on your preferred beach, call 01989 566017 and find out how you can organise your own.