Beaches dirtier than ever with legacy of litter

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Britain's beaches are being ruined by litter, with twice as much picked up last year as in 1994.

In 1995 more than 305,000 items of rubbish were picked up from beaches around the coasts of Britain. This included almost 20,000 crisp packets, 10,500 drink cans and 9,400 cigarette butts, not to mention sanitary towels, plastic, glass and cotton buds.

The Beachwatch '95 survey organised by the Marine Conservation Society and Reader's Digest took place on the 16 and 17 September last year. A total of 202 beaches covering 193km were cleaned by 2,365 volunteers and 196 of the beaches were surveyed in detail. In total the debris weighed an estimated 30,000kg, three times as much as in 1993.

The Beachwatch '95 results found that 1,635 items of rubbish were recorded per km surveyed as compared to 977 items per km in Beachwatch '94 and 572 items per km surveyed in Beachwatch '93. Tourist debris alone was up 60 per cent since Beachwatch '94.

Plastic accounted for more than half the debris recorded, and sewage- related debris was between 11 per cent and 12 per cent of the total. Debris made from metal has decreased while the proportion of paper-based materials has almost doubled. The most common items found included crisp and sweet wrappers, plastic bottles, caps, lids, and rope.

Two Guernsey beaches - Le Port aux Malades, Castel, and Fermain, St Peter Port - came out as cleanest in the survey. They had 0.01 and 0.03 items of rubbish respectively for every metre of beach. In contrast two Lancashire beaches were the dirtiest with 93 bits of rubbish per metre of beach on Western Shore, Sunderland Point, and an unsightly 166 bits of rubbish per metre at Jack Scout Cove, Silverdale.

Last year the dirtiest beaches were Castle Beach, Dyfed, and New Brighton, Merseyside, and the cleanest were Treaddur Bay in Gwynedd, Porthneigwl, also in Gwynedd, and Thorpe Bay in Essex.

Some improvement has been seen in the standard of bathing water. In 1995 about 413 out of 464 beaches met the EC mandatory standard on bathing water, 37 more than in 1994.

"It is unacceptable that our children are having to build their sandcastles on little more than a rubbish dump," Kim Winter of Holiday Which? magazine said. "It is time a concerted effort was made to make our beaches a more safe and pleasant environment."

The Marine Conservation Society added: "We would urge people to take individual responsibility for disposal of their litter whether they are tourists or visitors. We would also urge those in local authorities or industry to take action to reduce the problem at source."

Recommendations made by the society include organising awareness campaigns in schools on waste reduction, disposal and recycling. Incentives should also be increased for manufacturers and retailers to reduce the use of plastics and excessive packaging. The Government should also expand the network of plastics recycling schemes and encourage research into degradable alternatives.