Surfers to take part in biggest ever clean-up of plastic packaging


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The Independent Online

Around 1,000 surfers will swap their boards for rubber gloves and bags this weekend for their biggest ever clean-up of plastic packaging, drinks tins and other debris on beaches.

The campaign group Surfers Again Sewage’s Big Spring Beach Clean on Saturday and Sunday will tidy up 40 beaches and raise awareness of how the public’s tendency to flush wet wipes, tampons and cotton buds down the toilet is marring beautiful stretches of nature.

Surfers Against Sewage – SAS for short - has been trying to focus attention on the rising tide of sewage, associated sanitary items and general rubbish which pollutes the sea and Britain’s 11,073-mile shoreline for 22 years.

The latest figures suggest that its ‘Think Before You Flush’ message against sanitary aids going the pan may finally be getting through. In its annual Beachwatch survey, released today, the Marine Conservation Society records an 11 per cent drop in overall shore litter and a 33 per cent fall in sewage related debris such as cotton buds, condoms, sanitary towels and tampon applicators across the UK last year.

Despite the impressive performance, beach rubbish is still historically high, having hit its all-time record in 2008 after decades years of steady growth. The previous year, 2010, the MSC’s volunteer team found 40 per cent rise in sewage-related debris, and in 2011 the MSC’s volunteers detected an 11 per cent rise in a new unwelcome trend – plastic bags containing dog poo.

Dom Ferris, campaigns manager for Surfers Against Sewage, said that volunteers this weekend, who will scouring beaches from Perranporth in Cornwall to Talisker on the Isle of Skye, would probably find 70 per cent of rubbish was plastic: food packaging, bottles, bags and sweet wrappers.

Most of the blame lay with people directly littering beaches, failing to secure recycling in coastal resorts and wrongly flushing plastic sanitary items down the toilet rather than putting them in a bin (only the Four Ps should go down the pan, it says: poo, paper, pee and puke)

However the group -  founded in 1990 by surfers who were getting repeated ear, nose, throat and gastric infections after because sewage-related bacteria in the sea – also believes that manufacturers should make more prominent recycling and anti-litter messages on labels, reducing packaging and increasing the recyclable content of the packaging that remains.

Some of the material collected this weekend will be posted back to multi-national corporations under SAS’s Return to Offender programme. Among the “Dirty Dozen” whose products are most often found on beaches are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo UK, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft and Nestle.

Lauren Davis, Beachwatch officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said its latest survey showed that dog owners were thinking ahead by carrying poop scoop bags but she hoped they would deposit them in bins rather than on the sand. She said: Leaving a bag full of poo on the beach will result in preserved excrement, protected from the elements for years by a bag which could take a long time to break down. We don’t want children picking up bags that break open and spill their contents whether it’s fresh or ‘mature’. Dog poo is a source of high levels of bacteria and can lead to reduced water quality, and poses a human health risk.”

During the MCS Beachwatch Big Weekend 2011 on 17 and 18 September, 4,500 volunteers cleaned 335 beaches. In total they collected 247,914 pieces of litter - almost 1,741 for every kilometre.

The Surfers Against Sewage Spring beach clean, although smaller than the MSC’s annual survey in September, is growing in popularity. Last year 745 people helped; this year SAS estimates that more than 1,000 staff, regional representatives and volunteers will pull on rubber gloves to pick up other people’s rubbish.

SAS ‘Dirty Dozen’- Showing the 12 companies that SAS have sent the most identifiable, individual items of marine litter back to...

Products / Parent company Counts

Coca Cola 331

PepsiCo UK 231

Lucozade/GlaxoSmithKline 167

Kraft 84

Nestle 82

Mars 66

Tesco 65

United Biscuits 47

Unilever 31

Booker Ltd/Euro Shopper 30

Asda 26

Anheuser Busch - InBev 21