Just over a year after the 5p plastic bag tax was introduced in the UK as a means of reducing plastic pollution, the number of plastic bags on our beaches has almost halved.

The figures were published today when the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) revealed the results of its annual Great British Beach Clean. In September 2016, nearly 6,000 volunteers spent over 10,000 hours cleaning 364 beaches across the country, recording details of the litter they found along the way.

The great news is that the number of plastic bags found during this year’s beach clean had dropped by almost half, falling to the lowest levels reported in over a decade. In 2016, the marine charity found an average of less than seven plastic bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned, down from 11 bags per 100 metres in 2015. MCS attributes this decrease to the 5p tax, which was implemented across the UK in October 2015.

Plastic bottle on beach

Plastic bottle on beach-Photo by Tim Fanshawe via MCS UK

The Great British Beach Clean volunteers surveyed over 70,000m of coastline, filling over 2,000 bin bags with close to 6,000kg of litter. They collected a (fairly horrifying) 268,384 individual pieces of litter over one weekend – an average of 649 pieces of litter per 100m across the UK. While this is slightly lower than last year (a four per cent decrease), it’s still a shocking amount of waste polluting our coastlines and harming marine wildlife.

They also a staggering 50 per cent increase in balloon related litter, which is why the charity is calling on local councils to ban balloon and sky lantern releases.

Porthtowan beach clean-Marine Conservation Society

Porthtowan beach clean-Photo by Marine Conservation Society

The Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch Manager, Lauren Eyles, said: “In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of ten single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned. This year, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place.”

Here at Ecophiles, we’re thrilled by this incredible news but there’s still much more that can be done to protect the environment.

The stunning British coast minus the plastic bags. Photo: Mark Towning

The stunning British coast minus the plastic bags. Photo: Mark Towning

There are two particularly hot topics that look to continue making headlines as we move into 2017. The first: microbeads. Our partner, Plastic Soup Foundation has been running the Beat the Microbeads campaign since 2012. 337 brands from 67 different manufacturers have promised to remove plastic microbeads from their products in support of the campaign. Greenpeace is leading a petition calling for the Prime Minister to follow other world leaders and ban these polluting plastics which are unnecessarily included in many cosmetics products. Will the UK follow Canada and be the next country to ban microbeads? We hope so.

The other huge problem is that of disposable coffee cups, which are made from a mix of paper and plastic and cannot be recycled. As a result, 100 billion single-use coffee cups go to landfill each year.

beach-trash

Beach trash-Photo by Natasha Ewins

There could be a fight ahead of us. Just this month, environment minister Therese Coffeey rejected calls for a ‘coffee cup tax’, despite the 5p bag charge resulting in an estimated 83 per cent decrease in usage. Yet, there has been small progress: some coffee chains are offering discounted drinks for customers bringing in their own cups and companies such as Ecoffee Cup are producing stylish, reusable coffee cups to encourage consumers to play their part in battling the problem.

David McLagan, founder of Ecoffee Cup, said: “This is amazing news from the Marine Conservation Society. The next big issue in plastic waste that must be tackled has to be single-use takeaway coffee cups. Unfortunately, the majority of British tea and coffee drinkers still believe single-use cups are recyclable which simply isn’t the case. In reality over 100 billion single-use cups go to landfill each year, globally. It’s great to see that the 5p tax has already had such a positive impact in terms of consumers taking responsibility to reduce their plastic waste, something that needs to be replicated for takeaway coffee cups.”

bag_on_a_beach

Bag on a beach-Photo by Stewart Askew

If you’re inspired by the hugely positive impact this small change is having on the environment, why not check out our article on other ways to protect the ocean?