A third of beaches had face masks and other protective equipment washed up on their shores during an annual clean up, conservationists have said.
The Marine Conservation Society revealed its yearly Great British Clean in September found face coverings and gloves littering 30 per cent of beaches, saying these numbers were “certainly of concern”.
Pieces of plastic and polystyrene were the most common items found. Caps and lids, wet wipes, cigarette stubs and plastic string were also picked up in large numbers by volunteers.
Its figures were backed up by data from the charity’s Source To Sea Litter Quest, where people collect litter from villages, towns and cities that often ends up on beaches.
Volunteers found more than two-thirds (69%) of inland litter-picks contained personal protective equipment (PPE), designed to shield people from contracting coronavirus.
Great British Beach Clean co-ordinator Lizzie Prior said: “Considering mask-wearing was only made mandatory in shops in England in late July, little more than three months before the Great British Beach Clean, the sharp increase in PPE litter should be a word of warning for what could be a new form of litter polluting our beaches in the future.”
The charity is also calling for a bottle deposit return scheme across the UK, not just in Scotland, as nearly all litter picks found drinks refuse.
An average of 30 drinks containers, cups and lids were found per 100 metres of beach this year.
Aside from the litter being bad for the environment, it is also damaging for animals and wildlife.
Marine animals could eat the face masks and gloves, which will not break down in their systems, and end up dying, while land animals can get tangled up in them.
Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “This year’s Great British Beach Clean data, in addition to the Source To Sea Litter Quest data, shows just how crucial it is that Wales, England and Northern Ireland follow in the footsteps of Scotland and urgently introduce an all-inclusive deposit return scheme.
“Despite lockdown, with many of us spending more time at home, littering in public spaces has continued unabated.
“Almost every single local litter-pick found at least one drinks container, which is incredibly concerning.
“An effective deposit return scheme would take the UK one step closer to a circular economy model and drastically reduce the volume of single-use pollution in the UK’s streets, parks and on our beaches.”
The litter picks were held during a period of COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions.
To comply with the government guidance, each volunteer had a 100-metre stretch of beach to themselves and organised cleaning bubbles with family and friends.
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