Government must tackle rising number of wet wipes, says marine charity

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is calling on the Government to tackle marine litter after new data revealed the number of wet wipes found on Britain's beaches rose by 50% in a single year.

The report by MSC also revealed that general beach litter has risen by 6.4% between 2013 and 2014.

The Government says it is taking sufficient action on beach litter, but MSC disagrees, saying the upward trend in rubbish on UK shores over the last 20 years demonstrates the Government is failing to tackle the problem.

It is therefore calling on the Government to produce a National Marine Litter Action Plan for England and Wales, similar to those already in place for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

New measures needed

MCS says an Action Plan should address the key sources of marine litter: public, fishing, shipping and sewage related debris – including wet wipes.

New measures needed include a nationwide deposit scheme for plastic drinks bottles and aluminium drinks cans – 10% of overall beach litter recorded – and better disposal and recycling facilities for fishermen, both commercial and recreational – 11% of all beach litter surveyed.

The data was collected during a weekend long event last September, with 2,457 pieces of litter collected for every kilometre cleaned across 300 beaches. This compares to 2,309 in 2013.

Beaches in the South West saw a rise of 89% in litter levels, and rubbish on Welsh beaches rose by 46%. In the north of England litter levels dropped, and less rubbish was also found on beaches in Scotland.

Overflows and debris

MSC says much of the problem stems from so-called ‘flushable’ wet-wipes being put down the loo rather than in the bin, and extends across the water industry.

The plastic-containing wipes don’t disintegrate readily, instead lasting for a long time once they have reached the sea. They also cause blockages in sewerage systems not designed to cope with them, resulting in overflows and sewage related debris ending up on the beach.


“There is an international obligation for the UK Government to take action to reduce marine litter under an EU marine directive,” MCS senior pollution policy officer, Dr Sue Kinsey said. “There has to be a three pronged attack on marine litter led by new policies and action from Government, new practices from industry and behaviour change from the public.”

“The latest results from our weekend-long Great British Beach Clean event held between 19th and 22nd September show that plastic pieces are once again the most frequently found items on UK beaches,” MCS beachwatch officer, Charlotte Coombes said.

“Mostly these can’t be identified so will almost certainly have been in the marine environment for years – the problem is they will never disappear completely and research is underway to look at the impact these microplastics could be having on the food chain.”

The Scottish Government has announced in August 2014 a new strategy, the ‘Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland’ to tackle marine litter by developing current and future measures to ensure that the amount of litter entering the marine and coastal environment is minimised.

Lucinda Dann

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