Calum Duncan: What Scots flush is adding to planetary crisis

Plastic duck

Plastic can be found in our seas everywhere, from Antarctica to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on earth. United Nations oceans chief Lisa Svensson summed it up when she described this as a “planetary crisis” that is “ruining the ecosystem of the ocean”.

Plastics take hundreds of years to decompose and can have devastating effects on sea life, causing injuries, suffocation, starvation and often death. Even once broken down into microscopic fragments, they accumulate in worms and shellfish at the base of the ocean foodweb and are then ingested by larger predators – including humans. A range of other man-made waste is also impacting our seas.

The Marine Conservation Society, co-ordinating squads of volunteers, has been collecting and monitoring litter on shorelines across the UK for almost 25 years through our Beachwatch and Great British Beach Clean projects. The findings are alarming, showing a steady increase in rubbish.

Marine Litter

An average of nearly 500 pieces of litter were found on every 100m stretch of the Scottish beaches surveyed in 2017. Although the density of marine litter in Scotland is lower than elsewhere in the UK, the latest stats show a six per cent increase in just 12 months.

A major proportion – 17 per cent – was made up of what we call “on the go” rubbish such as plastic bottles and food packaging. However, this general rise in litter is overshadowed by a staggering jump in sewage-related debris (SRD) in Scotland – stuff people flush down the loo that should be binned.

SRD sky-rocketed by 40 per cent in 2017 compared to 2016, with the quantity of wet wipes more than doubling. Analysis shows 21 per cent of all Scotland’s beach litter comes from bathrooms. This compares to eight per cent for the rest of the UK.

Some progress has been made with the support of our ‘citizen science’ data. A Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland was introduced in summer 2014, and recently re-energised. A 5p charge for carrier bags – plastic and paper alike – was successfully introduced and has already led to a reduction on our beaches.

As a founding partner in the Have You Got the Bottle? campaign, the MCS and our beach litter data also helped secure Holyrood’s commitment to introducing a deposit-return system for drinks containers.

Read the full article at The Scotsman.

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