Most beaches in Scotland are clean and tidy places which we can enjoy to the full, safe in the knowledge that they’re being looked after properly. You have to be of a certain disposition to swim in the sea of course, but that’s to do with the temperature rather than the quality of the water.
Despite the general absence of rubbish, pollution and dead wildlife on our beaches there will always be the odd occasion when standards slip and most of us will have stumbled across an ice lolly wrapper or a tipped-up bin as we trek across the expanses of sand that nature has so kindly provided. The problem with these isolated incidents is the “accumulation effect”: it all adds up. If left unchecked it can become a serious problem, not least because, once rubbish enters the sea, it becomes extremely difficult to clean up and joins the international mass of rubbish which is causing serious problems.
I had always tended to assume that beach litter was caused by three things:
- Idiocy/ignorance such as when someone casually throws rubbish to the ground, glad that it is no longer on their person and unwilling to think about for a second longer.
- Carelessness such as when someone places a light-weight piece of rubbish on top of a bin in a windy area, forgetting that the merest gust will launch their rubbish into the air and blow it around.
- Random acts of nature such as mini tornadoes which whip bins into the air and distribute the rubbish across a wide area. Also, seagulls.
Points 1 and 2 above are connected to human behaviour and reflect how we, as citizens, act towards our environment and those around us. Fortunately these negative examples are relatively few and far between and there are plenty of positive examples of beach clean ups etc. to combat them. What had not occured to me (at least until it was highlighted recently) was that there was another “creator” of rubbish in a strong position to do something about it: the packaging industry and in particular the plastics industry.
Funnily enough it was the plastics industry itself that brought the issue to my attention, through their “Plastics 2020 challenge” website and a recent ComRes survey, which was picked up in an article for Packaging News.
As it turns out, the largest group of people surveyed (38%) blamed individuals and only 13% blamed the industry which tends to show that the end user is held responsible by the public, rather than the original producer. In terms of beach litter, the shipping industry took a sizable hit with 10% of respondents blaming them most with sewage and waste companies receiving 13%.
It’s a fairly wide spread of results and shows that people, as a whole, are aware that beach litter comes from different sources. But we still blame ourselves, and that’s probably about right. Until we get 100% degradable packaging (which breaks down into 100% safe micro-particles) we are going to have to accept responsibility for taking our litter home and recycling it.
Perhaps, if everyone who does contribute to the problem of litter can become a little more active in trying to find a solution, we might have rubbish free beaches by 2020.
To discover the location of award beaches (those which have been proven to be well managed and have good recycling or refuse facilities) please visit www.keepscotlandtidy.org/coastal. Keep Scotland Tidy is part of Keep Scotland Beautiful (as are we) and provides a range of useful information including about the bathing water litter grant scheme for community groups organising clean ups and facts about marine and coastal litter – sources, types etc.