Become a litter-al hero and help clean up UK beaches

Rebecca Thair
By Rebecca Thair,
updated on Jul 8, 2023

Become a litter-al hero and help clean up UK beaches

How you can help save the planet and clean up Britain

A common thread when we think about a ‘legacy’ is leaving the world a little better than we found it. But, the task can feel daunting if you don’t know where to begin, or how we, as individuals, can actively, and regularly, make a difference.

Well, the simple act of litter picking has the ability to reach new environmental heights when you either get involved with group events, like the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean, or organise your own. And, you can literally see the difference you’re making when you scour the shoreline, and spot a clear coastal path ahead.

Life’s a beach

With an estimated 270 million coastal trips made each year in the UK, and the summer fast approaching, our seaside locations will soon be buzzing with excited day-trippers and holiday-makers, eager to feel the sand between their toes and take a deep inhale of that revitalising sea air.

But, long after the splashes and children’s joyful laughter are no more than an echo on the breeze, the remnants of a fun day out remain, from that long-forgotten drinks bottle half buried in sand, to a plastic wrapper that was swept down the beach, and cigarette butts dropped like confetti. Suddenly that picture-perfect day at the seaside becomes a nightmare for marine life, our environment, and the locals.

Despite progress being made in terms of sustainability, and businesses being urged to move to biodegradable materials, Keep Britain Tidy reports that 400 million tonnes of plastic is still being produced each year, with an astounding 40% of that being single-use plastic – which takes more than 400 years to decompose. It even goes so far as to say that “plastic will soon outweigh all the fish in the sea”, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noting that 14 million tonnes of that plastic ends up in our oceans.

It paints a pretty bleak picture, but the tide does appear to be changing. Each year the Marine Conservation Society organises the Great British Beach Clean in an effort to inspire the nation to make a positive impact on our coastline instead. The week-long event asks volunteers to head to beaches to litter pick, and record the rubbish they’ve collected, providing data that can help the society campaign for real change.

In fact, the information gathered has helped it lobby for several huge changemakers in the fight against plastic pollution, including the introduction of the plastic bag charge in supermarkets, and banning microplastics in personal care products.

As a result, it’s reported a 55% reduction in plastic bags on UK beaches since the 5p charge began (now 10p), and, overall, the 2021 Great British Beach Clean found an average of 385 items of rubbish per 100 metres, down 9% from 2020 – and a colossal 31% drop since 2019!

High tides, good vibes

While this progress is a positive step, it’s essential that we maintain momentum – for the sake of all coastal and marine life plagued by our plastic waste. And the good news is that it’s so simple for you to take part.

1. Join the Great British Beach Clean

This week-long conservation drive is so beneficial thanks to not just removing rubbish, but gathering vital data to support wider-reaching campaigns as well. In 2021, it saw more than 6,000 volunteers clearing 55,000 metres of UK beaches, and collecting over 5,000kg of litter – and we can only hope to see more people get stuck in this September. With organised events you can sign up to, and resources to help if you’d like to lead your own beach clean event, the mcsuk.org is a fantastic hub of information to help you get involved this year.

2. Volunteer with an organised group

You don’t have to wait for a specific date to carve out time for conservation work. There are plenty of organisations arranging beach cleans across the country, all you have to do is search for one that suits you! Try keepbritaintidy.org, nationaltrust.org.uk, or beachclean.org as a starting point.

3. Clean up on your next day out

You can still make waves in environmental protection, without joining a big group. Go solo, or with a few friends, and collect trash on your travels, disposing of it safely and properly, knowing that you’re restoring these beautiful locations with the respect they deserve.

This year, the annual Great British Beach Clean will take place between
Friday 15 and Sunday 24 September 2023.

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