The Great British Beach Clean September 17th-26th 2021

We are always delighted to help support and promote Beachwatch. Our charity partner's the Marine Conservation Society's annual national beach cleaning and litter survey programme, where people all around the UK can care for their local beach and coastline. 

Marine wildlife is under threat from the pollution and litter in our seas, with hundreds of species accidentally eating or becoming entangled in, amongst other things, plastic and fishing detritus. Litter strewn beaches harm tourists and tourism as well, so we all have a part to play in turning the tide on beach litter. This year there are hundreds of events taking place on the weekend of Sept 17th-26th all over England, Scotland and Wales. Read on to find out how you can get involved this year but first let's find out about last year's record breaking activity and how things have changed since 2018!

Between the 14th and 17th of September, thousands of people headed to hundreds of UK beaches with one thing in mind – to make a dent in the amount of litter covering our coastline.

Just short of 15,000 volunteers - cleaned up and surveyed 494 beaches around the UK coast, making the 2020 Great British Beach Clean the biggest ever. Finally, beach cleaning is cool and becoming a mainstream activity that everyone, including  whole families can get involved with -  we’re totally delighted having waited 25 years for this moment!

Volunteers picked up 8,550 kgs of litter across the whole of the UK – fun fact ...that’s about three times as heavy as the tongue of a blue whale – the largest animal ever known to have lived on earth!

The good news is that England, Northern Ireland and Wales saw a significant decrease in the amount of litter found, with only Scotland showing a year on year average, mainly due to bathroom waste and sewage overflow.  There were, on average, a staggering 600 items of litter on every 100 metres of beach that were cleaned and surveyed. Pretty shocking huh?


Broken down further, England’s beaches had the largest number of litter items per 100m, with 655.

Scotland had 559 litter items per 100m, followed by Wales with 528, Northern Island had 508 and the Channel Islands came in the lowest with 168.

Surfers Against Sewage estimates that about 8 million pieces of plastic are entering the oceans every single day.


Here are the top 10 products littering our beaches:

1. Plastic/ polystyrene pieces (0-50cm) - 225.3/100m

Plastic and polystyrene pieces top the list of the most common item of litter on Britain’s beaches most years and last year was    no different.

These products beat number two in the list by quite a margin.

Since last year there has been a 7% increase in the number of plastic and polystyrene pieces found on beaches.

Last year there were 209.6 items per 100m. 

2. Packets (crisp, sweet, lolly, sandwich) - 42.3/100m

Last year there were 43.9 items per 100m, slightly more than this year’s 42.3.

3. Glass - 40.4/100m

Discarded glass bottle.

The amount of glass found on Britain’s beaches has nearly doubled since last year.

Last year, glass was number 7 on the list and now it has jumped to number three, with a 73% increase in the number of items found.

4. Cigarette stubs - 34.5/100m


The MCS said that during this year’s beach clean, they have been collecting rigid marine plastics and cigarette butts ready for them to be recycled into new products.

“The cigarette stubs, continually in the top of 10 of most found items, will go to make outside hoarding boards,” the charity said.

5. Caps and lids - 32.9/100m

Caps and lids found on the beach.

6. String/ cord (thickness 0-1cm) - 31/100m

There’s been a 15% increase in the amount of string/cord found in the beach clean up.

In 2016, 27 items per 100m were found compared to 31 this year.

7. Wet wipes - 27.4/100m 

There's been a staggering rise in the number of wet wipes found on beaches.

There has been a 94% rise in the number of wet wipes found on UK beaches, data from the Great British Beach Clean revealed. Another huge rise was single-use masks and other PPE - No surprise there!

The MCS said that there has been a stark rise in sewage related debris in Scotland and Southern England.

Such debris went up 40% on Scottish beaches, the report details, with the main offender being wet wipes, which rocketed by 141% in the past year. 

The report said that there was “much confusion over labelling of what can and can’t be flushed”.

The beach clean found that 21% of all Scottish beach litter came from bathrooms, compared to 8% in the rest of the UK. 

8. Cotton bud sticks - 26.9/100m 

Cotton bud sticks.

Gemmell said: “No one wants to swim with a flushed wet wipe or make a sand castle out of cotton bud sticks – we can all make a difference for our seas and beaches both for society and wildlife.

“We need everyone to only flush the 3 P’s down the loo – pee, poo and paper – that’s all.

“Everything else needs to go in the bin so it doesn’t end up on our beautiful beaches. We also need continued investment to fix unsatisfactory Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).”

9. Fishing line - 18/100m

Fishing line was amongst the discarded items.

The report states that 12.1% of all the litter found on the beaches came from fishing. 

“All the things from lobster pots to fishing nets, that help anglers and commercial fishermen catch food,” the report states.

10. Cutlery/ trays/ straws - 15.1/100m


These items also fall under the “on the go” waste banner. The MCS has a number of recommendations for those wanting to reduce their usage of items such as straws.

They urge people to refuse straws and for businesses not to give them out.

The MCS advocated a levy charge placed on certain items - such those already introduced on plastic bags.

“If a levy was placed on single use plastic such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids, we’re confident that we’d find fewer of these items,” MCS said


So what’s next? The public know how important pollution-free beaches and seas are, now we must ride on this new found momentum and ensure our government makes the right decisions when it comes to stemming the single-use plastic tide. Please help us keep up the lobbying efforts wherever you can on social media, you can find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @globalwakecup or you can write to your local MP.

Finally, If you'd like to join a beach clean event or organise your own and be part of the most influential fight against marine litter in the UK you can find out how here 



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