Cleaning volunteers asked to record plastic PPE found on UK beaches

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Volunteers in this year’s Great British Beach Clean are being asked to record the personal protective equipment (PPE) they find, to get a clearer picture of the volume of plastic masks and gloves discarded during the coronavirus pandemic and their impact on the environment.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which organises the annual September event, is urging people to organise their own surveys with smaller groups of friends, family and “bubbles”, in line with government guidance.

“It’s likely we’ve all seen masks and gloves littering our local area, whether that’s on the coast or on our street” said Lizzie Prior, MCS beachwatch officer. “Much like other single-use litter, face masks and plastic gloves put our seas and marine life in danger. PPE can be mistaken for food and ingested by marine life or trap animals in the elastic straps of face masks as we’ve seen recently. It’s so upsetting to see another form of single-use litter polluting the UK’s beautiful beaches, and we’re determined to ensure this doesn’t become a new normal.”

Now in its 27th year, the annual event is a UK-wide long weekend of coastal cleaning from Land’s End to the Shetland Islands. This year it starts on Friday and finishes on Monday.

Nearly 11,000 volunteers took part in last year’s clean-up, retrieving an average of 558 litter items for every 100 metres of beach surveyed. Plastic remained by far the most common form of litter (143 pieces per 100 metres), followed by cigarette butts (42) and glass items (33). There were six drinks cans per 100 metres. Among the more unusual items logged were a toilet seat, padlocks, false teeth and circuit boards.

Data collected has played a key role in the introduction of the 5p single-use carrier bag charge, the ban on microbeads in personal cleaning products such as shower gels and toothpastes, the commitment to a deposit return scheme in Scotland and the consultation on one in England and Wales, and a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England.

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