The facts

Coastal and marine litter is harmful for a number of reasons:

  • Tourism – litter on a beach can be remembered and can put people off returning; moreover, some litter, like glass, is highly dangerous.
  • Wildlife - hundreds of birds, marine mammals and sea turtles die due to entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics every year.
  • Financial – coastal local authorities spend millions of pounds every year cleaning up beaches, and the fishing industry suffers damage to nets, propellers and pipes due to marine litter.

Facts about coastal and marine litter:

  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted that 80% of litter in Scotland’s marine environment is transported there from land by rivers, drainage or wind.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been growing since the 1950s. It is the result of whirling currents which come together between California and Hawaii. According to estimates it spans 3.43 million km2.
  • There has been a 37% rise in UK beach cleaning over 10 years.
  • £13 million a year is the cost to Scottish fishing industry from coastal and marine litter.
  • There are 40,000 blockages in Scottish Waters waste water network a year.
  • Volunteers picked up an average of 1,963 pieces of litter per kilometre on Scottish beaches during the last Marine Conservation Society survey.
  • 20,000 tonnes of marine litter are dumped in the North Sea every year – of that 70% sinks to the bottom, 15% floats on the surface and 15% is washed up on our coasts.
  • More than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year throughout the world after either becoming entangled in or eating plastic materials found in the sea.
  • A plastic bottle can remain intact for up to 450 years and, although it will eventually break down into smaller pieces through weathering, will never completely biodegrade. Microscopic plastic pieces are found in beach sand throughout the UK.
  • Although people often think that fruit peel will biodegrade naturally in the environment, it can take up to two years for orange peel or banana skins to disappear in the marine environment.
  • Almost 98% of dead North Sea fulmars surveyed in the southern region of the North Sea were found to have plastic in their stomachs.
Clean Up Scotland
Find out more about our national clean up campaign and how you can get involved in cleaning up a beach.