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  1. ITV Report

Are wet wipes littering our Cumbrian beaches?

Photo: ITV Border News

According to the latest beach litter data collected by the Marine Conservation Society the number of wet wipes found on beaches has increased by over 50% in a single year.

The charity’s report, which also reveals a 6.4% rise in beach litter between 2013 and 2014, comes as the Government claims that no new action is needed on marine litter and claims it’s doing all it can. MCS says that its annual beach litter report has shown a rising trend in rubbish on UK shores over 20 years.

“There is an international obligation for the UK Government to take action to reduce marine litter under an EU marine directive. We therefore believe Government needs to produce National Marine Litter Action Plans for England and Wales, similar to those already produced for Scotland and Northern Ireland. There has to be a three pronged attack on marine litter led by new policies and action from Government, new practices from industry and behaviour change from the public.”

– Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer

2,457 bits of litter were collected and surveyed in 2014 compared to 2,309 in 2013.

MCS Beachwatch Officer, Charlotte Coombes, says the problem is that wipes, often described as flushable, are being put down the loo instead of thrown in the bin.

“Our sewerage systems weren’t built to cope with wet wipes. When flushed they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper, and they typically contain plastic so once they reach the sea, they last for a very long time.They can cause blockages in our sewers, and then, everything else that has been flushed down the loo can either back up into people’s homes, or overflow into rivers and seas. Overflows also happen during excessive rainfall, or if the plumbing hasn’t been connected up properly meaning the wrong pipes are heading straight to the sea. That’s when we find Sewage Related Debris, including wet wipes, on the beach.”

– Charlotte Coombes, MCS Beachwatch Officer

The problem has already been highlighted by a number of UK water companies, research for United Utilities in the North West showed 1 in 10 households have had blocked toilets and drains due to baby wipes, make-up wipes and other non-flushables going down the pan.

MCS says a National Marine Litter Action Plan should address the key sources of marine litter: public, fishing, shipping and sewage related debris, which includes wet wipes.

The charity says new measures that need to betaken to tackle the issue include: a nationwide deposit scheme for plastic drinks bottles and aluminium drinks cans – 10% of overall beach litter recorded during the Great British Beach Clean in 2014 - and better disposal recycling facilities for fishermen, both commercial and recreational – 11% of all beach litter surveyed during last September’s event.

“The latest results from our weekend-long Great British Beach Clean event held between 19th and 22nd September show that plastic pieces are once again the most frequently found items on UK beaches.

“Mostly these can’t be identified so will almost certainly have been in the marine environment for years, starting off as something much bigger and then slowly breaking down – the problem is they will never disappear completely and research is underway to look at the impact these micro plastics could behaving on the food chain.”

– Charlotte Coombes, MCS Beachwatch Officer

The good news for the North of England is beaches have seen litter levels dropped on both the east and west coasts, and less rubbish was also found on beaches in Scotland.