Beach Clean Up: A Guide to Keeping UK Beaches Clean

Our beach pollution report is going to surprise you, that’s for sure.

Beach pollution isn’t just about harmlessly forgetting a few plastic bottles on a bank holiday. Thanks to our way of life, plastic makes up 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces… before it breaks down into microplastic infecting all marine life. 

Beach clean up in the UK has never been more important to prevent plastic outweighing all the fish in the sea by 2050.

Let's dive right in...

Why local beach clean up is so important

Let’s start local. Where’s your nearest beach?

That beach is polluted. Even if there are no piles of plastic waste littering the shoreline, there’s still pollution there. Not all beach pollution is visible!

Besides the littering (75% of marine litter is plastic) there’s a humongous amount of chemical pollution. Some is intentional, with factories leaking sewage and toxic waste, other pollution is a side effect of the way we live, as pesticides and fertilisers are washed off fields in the rain.

Did you know that noise and light pollution disrupts the breeding, migration and feeding patterns of fish in shallow waters too?

Even if you can’t see the beach pollution statistics effects with your own eyes, there’s a mountain of scientific evidence to show the impact.

plastic cup on the beach
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Beach pollution spreads!

In 1992, a container full of 28,000 rubber ducks was released into the Pacific Ocean. They’re still washing up on shores from Japan to Hawaii to Australia.

This taught us a hell of a lot about the ocean currents and demonstrated how your seemingly harmless crisp packet on a beach in Cornwall can end up halfway around the world.

It’s not just your local beach that’s damaged by beach pollution.

Here are just some of the known global beach pollution effects:

  • Litter directly damages wildlife, from broken glass cutting seagulls on the shore to loose netting choking 650,000 marine animals annually.
  • Microplastics are in our seafood (bad for marine life and the humans that eat it!), and we’re still examining how microplastics chemicals disrupt life-giving marine photosynthetic algae.
  • Active ingredients in sunscreen (oxybenzone/octinoxate) kill coral reefs and their dependent ecosystems.

3 facts to put beach pollution in perspective!

Our favourite beach pollution fact for kids is that ocean trash takes thousands of years to disappear. Imagine that their great great great great great…. great grandkids will be around when their hastily thrown juice box has finally degraded!

Every time you do laundry, 700,000 synthetic microfibres contribute to beach water pollution. An estimated 85% of beach waste is from these fibres, more than beach pollution from usage of plastic bags. Choosing ethical swimwear is important!

One of the most beautiful beaches quickly became the dirtiest beach in Thailand. Leo DiCaprio’s famous Maya Bay as seen in “The Beach” shuts for 4 months each year to stop 10 million tourists trampling the coral reef.

maya bay beach crowded
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Join a beach clean up day in the UK

All beach pollution solutions start with us.

Everything from selecting clothes made from natural materials, to buying pesticide-free organic produce will help.

To make a notable difference, start collecting the 17.6 billion pounds of plastic released into the ocean each year.

You can pick up waste from any beach in the UK or join an existing beach clean up project, such as the “Great British Beach Clean”

FYI, the furthest you can be from the coast in the UK is 70 miles – there’s no excuse not to join in!

You don’t need any fancy skills to become a beach clean up volunteer. You just need a little will-power and your own two feet. 

2019’s Great British Beach Clean was from the 20th to 23rd of September. 2020’s is likely to be around the same time (coronavirus lockdown dependent) but there are events all year. Check at:

Organise your own local beach clean up

Many people are asking how to organise a beach clean up and to be honest, it’s a little daunting doing it all by yourself.

That’s why we recommend organising it through official programmes. You’ll still be the organiser, but you’ll get the resources and support from that programme.

And fortunately, we have great options in the UK!

We recommend checking out:

Both programmes give you a step-by-step guide on how to proceed an templates to make it easy. But in general, the main steps to organize your beach clean up will be the following:

  • Notify the owner of the beach area
  • Sift through some risk assessment documents
  • Have everything printed off for your volunteers to look at on the day.

Why beach clean up projects make a difference

Beach clean ups are not new, they’ve been happening for years and have made a sizable impact on the environment.

World beach clean up day (International Coastal Cleanup Day) has brought people together for 30 years, successfully picking up 300,000,000 pounds of trash

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

That includes over half a million plastic straws and beach trash, including sandwich wrappers, suncream tubes and those sunglasses that you lost on holiday that time (we have some eco bamboo sunglasses you’ll really not want to lose, by the way).

Reaching out to the farthest reaches of the ocean to collect our ocean pollution isn’t feasible, not to mention polluting too. That’s why cleaning up at your nearest beach is important and makes a big difference – let’s clean up our waste before it can spread.

Or, even better, cut down on waste all together. Quit single use plastics and pick up healthy zero waste habits. 

It’s the only sustainable path to the future! 

Pollution on the beach FAQs

What is beach pollution?

Beach pollution is waste that accumulates on the beach to harm the environment and marine species. This can be individual waste, like plastic water bottles or chemicals from sunscreen. It can also include industrial waste, where chemicals and pollutants are released from factories, or oil and grease are washed off the streets.

What causes beach pollution?

It all comes back to us humans. Beach pollution, and by extension ocean pollution, is caused by us individually and as a society. Some pollution is easy to see and prevent, e.g. littering. Other beach pollution, e.g. oil spills, sewage run-off, and industrial waste being pumped into the ocean, requires a more thoughtful change to how we live and interact with the world as a species.

What to wear to a beach clean up?

As much as we love eco-friendly flip flops, wear sturdier, closed-toe shoes for beach clean up volunteering. Not only will you be doing plenty of walking, but you’ll also be stepping near potentially harmful litter. You’ll also want to wear layers, so you can peel them off if the sun gets hot or cosy down if the wind picks up.

Your beach clean up equipment list should include a reusable water bottle and a sunhat. If cleaning equipment isn’t provided to you, you’ll also want to bring thick gloves (or a litter picker) and a bag to put the waste in.

Do you need a permit for a beach clean up?

In the UK, you need to notify the owner of the beach. This could be the local council, National Trust, or a private owner. You don’t need an official permit, you just need their permission. See the SAS resource above on how to ask for permission.

There’s no permit needed to pick up your own litter after a day on the beach!

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