Are we bottling out of binning when it comes to drinking on the go?

23 March 2016

Latest beach litter figures strengthen case for bottle deposit return schemes around UK.

Over 8,000 plastic bottles were found on UK beaches during just one weekend, according to the latest beach litter figures from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) published today.

On average, 99 bottles were picked up along every kilometre cleaned at 340 beaches from Orkney to the Channel Islands during the MCS Great British Beach Clean last September. It’s estimated that plastic bottles cold take up to 500 years to break down once in our seas.

The charity’s report, also reveals a shocking 34% rise in beach litter overall between 2014 and 2015, a record breaking number of volunteers taking part – just over 6,000, and the largest amount of litter found per kilometre – a staggering 3,298 pieces.

MCS′ beachcleaning work is supported by players of the Peoples Postcode Lottery, enabling teams of volunteers to clean up huge swathes of the beaches, and carefully record the litter they collect from a 100 metre stretch during each clean. This allows MCS to build up a picture of the state of our beaches by comparing those 100metre litter levels year on year.

All the home countries saw an increase in litter, except Wales, where litter levels dropped after a record rise last year – however in the in the last decade, average litter levels on Welsh beaches have increased by 51%.

There was a big percentage rise in most drinks containers, found on beaches between 2014 and 2015 – plastic drinks bottles increased by over 43%, metal drinks cans by almost 29%, and - drinks container caps and lids were up by over 41%. Only glass bottles went down and that was only by less than 1%.

The figures highlight an issue that UK and devolved governments are now being asked to consider – deposit return systems.

“There have been increases in the number of plastic bottles found on beaches in England, Scotland, Channel Islands, and Northern Ireland”, says Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Manager. “Only Wales has bucked the trend in 2015 but that’s almost certainly as a result of very high levels in 2014, where more bottles were found on Welsh beaches than anywhere else. The bottles we find on beaches are either dropped directly onto the beach, blown from land or sea, or end up there via rivers. The more we use as a nation, the more we’ll see ending up on our shores.”

Plastic bottles on beaches rose by 6.3% in the Channel Islands, 57.2% in England,
21.3% in Scotland and a whopping 235.3% in Northern Ireland. In Wales they dropped by 39.4 % but that’s in line with the overall drop in the country’s litter levels – even so, there were still 103 plastic bottles found per km cleaned, which is higher than the national average.

In recent years plastic bottles have become a lifestyle accessory. As the need to keep hydrated has been acknowledged as one of the keys to good health, more and more of us are buying bottles of water on the go, resulting in more needing to be binned. But is there a better way of ensuring they don’t reach our beaches?

Lauren Eyles says: “Deposit Return Systems (DRS) are nothing new. Lots of people will remember taking pop bottles back to the shop and up until last year the makers of Irn-Bru were returning 30p on glass bottles. Currently DRS schemes run successfully in Germany, Denmark, and some states in Australia and the USA. Studies have shown that a scheme can reduce the amount of littered drink containers, lead to more recycling and contribute to the circular economy – where resources are used again and again to extract maximum value. The schemes put a surcharge on drinks containers and when they’re returned – avoiding pollution – the surcharge is refunded.”

MCS says the introduction of DRS on all single use drinks containers – plastic, aluminium and glass - will see a massive increase in recycling and a change in people’s behaviour from simply throwing items away. Deposit Return Systems give value to items often regarded as having zero worth and so are disposed of irresponsibly

In Scotland, MCS is a founding partner of the ‘Have you got the bottle’ campaign led by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS). “We’re confident that evidence from other countries and a successful trial at Heriot-Watt University shows that a Scotland-wide roll-out of a DRS would lead to reduction in the number of drinks containers that blight our beaches,” says Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation in Scotland. “A survey for APRS showed that 78.8% backed a DRS for Scotland. With countries like Germany, where DRS was introduced a decade ago, recycling near to 99% of drinks containers, it’s not difficult to see why support is growing for this proven system.”

In Wales, MCS is fully behind the introduction of a DRS for the country. “People in Wales have shown they support environmental initiatives such as the carrier bag charge and general recycling. We think they’ll also get behind a deposit return system for drinks containers, given the high number of bottles we found on Welsh beaches – 875 bottles from 8.5km of coastline. We want to see an action on DRS in forthcoming election manifestos.” says Gill Bell, MCS Head of Conservation Wales.

MCS says it would like to see Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government come into line with Scotland and explore the potential benefits of introducing a DRS system. “A coordinated UK-wide system would have an even greater impact on litter levels. There’s clearly an appetite for it in Wales and Scotland, but it seems Westminster is hanging fire – just like it did with the single use carrier bag charge,” says Lauren Eyles.

Head of Charities for People’s Postcode Lottery, Clara Govier, said: “Players of People’s Postcode Lottery will be glad to know the money they raise is helping to make our beaches cleaner.”

Selfridges kindly provided support for the Great British Beach Clean through Project Ocean, its long-term partnership with the Zoological Society of London. Last year, Selfridges removed all single-use plastic water bottles from its stores, amounting to approximately 400,000 bottles a year.

MCS Head of Communications: Richard Harrington 01989 561585/07793 118 384
MCS Media and Editorial Officer: Clare Fischer 01989 561 658/07751 905535
MCS Media and Editorial Assistant: Kate Wilson 01989 561 667 / 07793 118 388
MCS Beachwatch Manager: Lauren Eyles 01989 561 597/ 07979 736661

For Scottish media:
MCS Head of Conservation Scotland: Calum Duncan 0131 2722776

UK Wide Overview of Great British Beach Clean results 2015

For the purposes of the Great British Beach Clean, data analysis the UK is divided into England (including the Isle of Man), Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.

Litter levels in Northern Ireland increased considerably from 2014 and had the highest litter density, with levels reaching near to where they were in 2012. A total of 7,030 litter items were collected from a total of 7 surveyed beaches. An average of 6,695.2 litter items/km were recorded compared to 1,644.1 in 2014, representing over 300% increase. Volunteer numbers increased by 18% and beaches by 40% from 2014 but are still very low compared to the rest of the UK. We would like to see more beaches surveyed and volunteers getting involved next year so we can start to build up a clearer picture of litter on NI beaches.

Wales had the second highest litter density but the only decrease of all the home countries. A total of 32,513 litter items were collected from a total of 51 surveyed beaches. Beaches surveyed, volunteers taking part and distance surveyed all increased from the year before. An average of 3,820.1 litter items/km were recorded compared to 6,437.7 in 2014 representing a 41% reduction; bringing levels back down to those seen in 2009/10.

Scotland had the fourth highest litter density and the second highest ever recorded, and follows the UK trend from 2014. A total of 45,815 litter items were collected from a record breaking 75 surveyed beaches (70% increase on 2014), as well as over 100% increase in volunteers participating from 663 in 2014 to 1,421 in 2015. An average of 2,999.3 litter items/km was recorded compared to 1,803.3 in 2014, representing a 66% increase in litter levels.

The Channel Islands had the lowest litter density which follows a consistent trend year on year; however levels did increase from 2014 but still remain way below the UK average. A total of 4,131 litter items were collected from a total of 18 surveyed beaches. An average of 1,059.2 litter items/km were recorded compared to 864.5 in 2014, representing a 22% increase. Beaches and length surveyed and volunteers participating all decreased from 2014.

England had the third highest litter density in the UK and the highest ever recorded. A total of 187,865 litter items were collected from a total of 189 surveyed beaches. Litter levels closely follow the UK averages over time. An average of 3,394.4 litter items/km were recorded compared to 2,527.2 in 2014, representing a 34% increase. Beaches and length surveyed and volunteer numbers all decreased overall.

England is further broken down into 4 regions: South West, South East, North West (including Isle of Man) and North East.

South West England had the highest litter density in England in 2015 as with most previous years, and the highest on record since 2001. On average 5,170 items/km were recorded, higher than the UK average (3,298 items/km), and representing a significant increase of over half from 2014 figures. The overall trend has been increasing since 2013. There was a decrease in beaches and length surveyed and volunteer participation in 2015 from 2014.

The litter density in South East England has been steadily increasing since 2011 and is currently at its highest on record at 3,053.4 items/km, a 26% increase from 2014. The beaches surveyed (80+) and volunteers participating (1,700+) remained very similar to 2014 and still very high; the highest out of all the English regions. This is recognition of the great work put into the Great British Beach Clean organisation on behalf of MCS by Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB.

North East England is closely behind the South East in terms of litter density and has remained high since 2012. On average, 2,966 items of litter/km were found, representing an increase of 25% compared to 2014 (following a decrease the year before) and the second highest density recorded since 2001. More beaches were surveyed, but fewer volunteers participated over a larger distance.

North West England had the lowest litter density in England at 2,249.6 items/km, below the UK average, but still remains very high and the highest recorded since 2011. The 2015 figure represents an 84% increase compared to 2014 following a high decrease of 70% from 2013-2014. A higher number of beaches and volunteers took part in the North West than in 2014.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is the UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. MCS campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries, and protection of marine life. Through education, community involvement and collaboration, MCS raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government action to protect the marine environment.

MCS provides information and guidance on many aspects of marine conservation and produces the annual Good Beach Guide (, the Good Fish Guide and relating to sustainable seafood, as well as promoting public participation in volunteer projects such as MCS Great British Beach Clean ( and Basking Shark Watch

The MCS Great British Beach Clean is the annual flagship event of our ongoing coastal environmental initiative, now in its 22nd year, and it occurs on the third weekend of every September. It’s the UK’s input to the global International Coastal Cleanup (representing 152 countries and locations), which occurs over the same weekend in September, providing a world-wide snapshot of marine litter.

The Great British Beach Clean is made possible thanks to a whole host of amazing volunteers and generous funding from some wonderful organisations:

People’s Postcode Lottery is a charity lottery. Players play with their postcodes to win cash prizes while raising money for charities and good causes across Great Britain and globally
• People’s Postcode Lottery is an External Lottery Manager and manages multiple society lotteries promoted by different causes supporting a range of charities. For details on which society lottery is running each week, visit
• Postcode Lottery Limited is regulated by the Gambling Commission under certificate nr 000-000829-N-102511-010 and 000-000829-R-102513-009. Registered office: Titchfield House, 69/85 Tabernacle Street, London, EC2A 4RR
• People’s Postcode Lottery players support the following Trusts – Postcode African Trust, Postcode Animal Trust, Postcode Care Trust, Postcode Children Trust, Postcode Community Trust, Postcode Culture Trust, Postcode Dream Trust, Postcode Earth Trust, Postcode Global Trust, Postcode Green Trust, Postcode Heroes Trust, Postcode Local Trust, Postcode Planet Trust, Postcode Support Trust, People’s Postcode Trust and Postcode Sport Trust. These Trusts are funded entirely by players and support a variety of good causes. For further information on each charity, visit:
• £10 for 10 draws paid monthly in advance with prizes every day. For further prize information visit:
• A minimum of 27.5% goes directly to charities and players have raised £108.9 Million for good causes across the country
• Maximum amount a single ticket can win is 10% of the draw revenue to a maximum of £400,000
• Players can sign up by Direct Debit, credit card or PayPal online at, or by calling 0808 10-9-8-7-6-5.
• The award to Marine Conservation Society is made through Postcode Animal Trust

Selfridges kindly provided support for the Great British Beach Clean through Project Ocean, its long-term partnership with the Zoological Society of London. Last year, Selfridges removed all single-use plastic water bottles from its stores, amounting to approximately 400,000 bottles a year.

Data collected by thousands of volunteers from hundreds of beaches around the UK is published by MCS the following spring in the event’s report. This document is used at regional, national and international levels to raise awareness of the impacts of marine litter, to promote measures to reduce litter at source and to campaign for marine litter legislation. The Great British Beach Clean litter survey and beach clean took place on the 18th to 21st September 2015

The Great British Beach Clean 2016 will take place on 16th -19th September.

We use cookies on our website. By continuing to browse our website, you are agreeing to use our cookies. Terms and Conditions