The number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches dropped by almost half between 2015 and 2016, according to a range of surveys carried out by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
The figures are published in the MCS Great British Beach Clean 2016 report. In 2015 there were, on average, 11 plastic bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned, but in 2016 there were under seven, the lowest number in over a decade.
It is thought that the drop comes from the 5p levy on single-use carrier bags that was introduced in October last year, after heavy lobbying from MCS.
“In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of ten single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned,” said MCS Beachwatch Manager Lauren Eyles. “This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations.”
This is good news for marine wildlife as turtles mistake plastic bags and balloons for their jellyfish prey, and the items can block their digestive systems leading to death from starvation. It has also recently been shown that some species of seabirds are particularly attracted by the scent of this plastic ‘food’.
Beaches in England and Northern Ireland saw the biggest drop in the number of plastic bags found during the September clean up. In Wales, where the charge has been in place for five years, the number, just under four bags for every 100 metres cleaned, is significantly lower than in any other year since 2011.
However, while the Great British Beach Clean volunteers did find a 4 percent decrease in beach litter overall, they lamented the huge quantity of rubbish that they found while cleaning the British beaches including a 15 percent rise of general beach rubbish in Wales and the Southwest.