IOM3 News Article

Public not plastics to blame for litter on beaches

The BBC TV coverage (One O'Clock News 10/04/07) of the Marine Conservation Society's (MCS) Beachwatch 2007 Report on litter on British beaches ended with the exhortation to 'use less plastics in the first place'. The report highlighted the increase in litter found on British beaches since surveys began in 1994 and stated that plastics make up over 50% of the rubbish collected.

The amount of litter on our beaches is, indeed, unacceptable and the MCS organises volunteers to litter pick on a regular basis. Thirty-five per cent of the rubbish is traceable to beach visitors. However, does using less plastic make good environmental sense?

Numerous Life Cycle Analyses on the alternatives to plastics for packaging, such as paper carrier bags and glass for bottles, show that on total lifetime (extraction of raw materials to recycling/recovery of energy content) plastics outperform other materials in terms of net consumption of energy.

The answer, as pointed out by Peter Davis, Director General of the British Plastics Federation, is better waste management systems and greater responsibility by those who drop the litter. The MCS review makes over 50 recommendations for improved waste management, but the media mentioned none of these. Since plastic litter floats and ocean currents deposit much of it on the shorelines, it is relatively easy to collect. In addition, slow degradation means plastics can, and should be, collected before waves, sand and sunlight cause breakdown into smaller particles which can be more easily ingested by marine life.

The BBC would do more to reduce litter on beaches by publicising the true causes of the problem - illegal dumping from ships and the irresponsible members of the public who drop litter (or do not do enough to clear it up), rather than blaming the material itself.

Further information
British Plastics Federation statement
Marine Conservation Society

Date Posted: 30 April 2008

Other news stories