Ocean Pollution

Deposit Return Schemes needed to stop litter on British beaches, campaigners say

The Marine Conservation Society's 2022 Great British Beach Clean results show that drinks-related litter was found on 93% of surveyed beaches, showing the need for Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) across the UK.

The results are in from the Marine Conservation Society’s annual Great British Beach Clean, which took place from 16 to 25 September 2022. Across the UK, 50km of beach were cleared and surveyed by over 5,261 volunteers, who filled over 1,228 bags of litter, weighing in at 3,908kg. All pollution cleared from beaches protects the ocean and vulnerable wildlife, which can ingest or become entangled in litter and debris. By taking part in the Great British Beach Clean, volunteers not only clear beaches of litter, but also help tackle ocean pollution by gathering vital data used by the charity to lobby governments and create change for cleaner seas and a healthier planet.  

The results reveal that an average of 103 pieces of plastic or polystyrene, 27 crisp and sweet packets or lollipop sticks, 23 wet wipes, 21 cigarette stubs, 19 glass items, 16 plastic lids and caps, 9 plastic cord or strings, 7 cotton bud sticks, 6 paper or cardboard pieces, as well as 6 fishing lines were found per 100m of UK beach. Interestingly, drinks-related litter was found on 93% of surveyed beaches, showing the need for Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) across the UK. The data collected shows a total decrease of 4% in litter levels across the UK in comparison to last year’s Great British Beach Clean. 

Dr Laura Foster, head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society said: “It’s good news that litter levels are dropping, albeit slowly, and we know that governments’ actions have been shown to be highly effective, from introducing carrier bag charges to the banning of certain single-use plastic items. These small changes have resulted in notable differences in the amount of these types of litter found on our beaches. However, there is a worrying increase in the amount of glass pieces being found, suggesting that glass is now frequently being littered.” 

The Scottish Government is ahead of UK and Welsh Governments, with a long-awaited Deposit Return Scheme to be implemented across the country in August 2023. The Marine Conservation Society is urgently calling for the same from Westminster and the Welsh Senedd, to cover plastic bottles, glass bottles and metal drinks cans. 

Glass ‘other’ is in the top five most common items, reflecting the high prevalence of glass pieces with drinks-related litter found on almost all UK beaches (93%). However, plans for a DRS in England currently don’t include glass.  

The charity’s data highlights the need for glass to be included in Deposit Return Schemes and the need for these to be implemented as soon as possible. A YouGov survey commissioned by the Marine Conservation Society earlier this year (February 2022) found that 76% of the GB population support a DRS, and 81% of people think supermarkets should actively support a DRS. 

In England, Therese Coffey, now Secretary of State for Defra, played a key role in the development of DRS when she was a Minister in Defra from 2016 to 2019. The charity is calling for Coffey to pick up DRS as a priority in England. Wales has yet to announce a date for implementation of a DRS. 


Photography courtesy of Unsplash & Marine Conservation Society

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