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Collected rubbish from the salt marshes of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Preventing Plastic Pollution!

On 18 November Andy Dinsdale and Beverley Coombes organised a Strandliners’ event: Preventing Plastic Pollution, funded by the EU’s Interreg fund, The Rivers’ Trust, Sea-Changers, Rother District Council and local donors. “It’s great to pick up rubbish from our natural environments and bin it, but is it enough?”, asks Andy. “What more can we do to prevent the plastic pollution in the first place?” HOT’s Zelly Restorick, a rubbish-picker-upper since coming to Hastings over 20 years ago,  attended this event and reports on what she and the team did to go that extra mile. (All images provided by Strandliners.)

Two teams litter picking a 1km area of salt marsh

Project Preventing Plastic Pollution was held at The Discovery Centre and the salt marshes of Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, focusing on this occasion on the River Rother catchment area. Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is part of the Discovery Rye Harbour project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

After tea, coffee and the choice of Beverley’s delicious home-made flapjacks or chocolate brownies, we heard a presentation by Andy on the project, followed by a team litter pick and ending with the minute recording of each item of rubbish found, putting them into categories and then dissecting them even further to record brand names, types of plastic, the use of the object, whether single or multi layer plastic and type of plastic: truly Citizen Science in action!

We left behind us pristine salt marshes – and, as Andy said, hopefully the research in this area will continue regularly, so that present day rubbish will be being collected and counted and not left as so much ancient human debris that is years and years old.

Litter picking on the salt marshes

The categories are:

Household Products
Food Packaging
Fishing Gear
Personal Care Items
Packing Materials
Smoking Materials
Primary Micro Plastic (nurdles, bio-beads, etc)

Pie chart showing categories of rubbish found at Rye Harbour during this survey. Thanks to Beverley Coombes.

Items found included a personal massage product, a toy tiger, much food packaging and household products, personal care products, a small amount of smoking products (some of which include plastic such as cigarette butts), a pile of fishing gear including rope, netting and tiny pieces of fishing line and packing materials including polystyrene – and the inevitable empty and full poo bags.

Some signage was also found, which will be returned to their owners with suggestions to fix them more securely against the harsh weather conditions experienced here.

Personal care items is one of the categories of litter

No pair of volunteers came back with empty bags. Recycled bags with hoops, picker-uppers, gloves and yellow jackets were all provided by Strandliners – all returned to be used for the next survey.

We worked till 2.30pm, half an hour extra, and still a couple of bags were taken home by Andy and Beverley to be dealt with, so committed are they to this data accumulation.

All necessary equipment provided by Strandliners

The question that emerged as being most important: was how do we prevent littering and plastic pollution? If there is no record, there is no data to analyse. By recording the litter found, Strandliners began creating a body of data to stop plastic pollution at source. Our consumer choices and consumption also affect plastic pollution and our personal responsibility to dispose of our rubbish thoughtfully.

Trying to discover the source of where the rubbish comes from is part of the solution and prevention programme. Due to weather conditions, some rubbish has travelled a long way. Our rubbish doesn’t remain only on our own shores: it ends up around the globe, exactly the same as other nations’ human debris.

The results of this Brand Audit and other such surveys are submitted to national and international data collection organisations, all with the accompanying hope that plastic production will be prevented, thus also preventing the huge amount of plastic rubbish that accumulates on or near to our shores, seas and rivers. The data has also been used at COP 26 and COP 27, putting pressure on the industry to change.

The contents emptied from our litter picking bags, ready for data recording

After all, plastic pollution is a crisis caused by plastic production. 75-85% of waste found is plastic. Andy suggested that there should be a UN discussion on a global plastic treaty that can deliver policies to significantly reduce plastic production and hold corporations accountable for perpetuating this global crisis.

Holding corporations accountable is also vital. For example, 2m vapes are thrown away every week. The vast majority contain a lithium battery. This means the vape should be dismantled, taken to the local tip and the battery recycled, although the design is so bad that it can’t be fully recycled. Vape manufacturers are making money from consumers and consumers are buying products with no thought about the end-use. What happens at the end of the object’s life?

Some of the volunteers with the collected litter

Andy and the Strandliners’ team of dedicated volunteers could not be more committed to this project and all the other projects they’re involved in. Andy himself must have offered hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of his own time to Strandliners, catalysed by his experience of discovering a sea bean from South America in 2004, following which he spent years searching for other sea beans and instead discovered multitudes of plastic pollution. Feeling so passionately about this issue, he began Strandliners in 2012, registering it as a Community Interest Company in 2018. Since its inception, Strandliners has completed over 300 beach and river litter surveys.

Since 2012, Strandliners has accumulated so many affiliations with other related and connected organisations, they are too numerous to mention here. Sign up for the Strandliners’ newsletter and discover them for yourself! You’ll also discover lots of ways in which you can participate, should marine and river pollution  be a passion or interest of yours.

Strandliners’ website details here.

FB: @StrandlinersCIC
Twitter: Strandliners@StrandlinersCIC
Instagram: @Strandliners

Some of the statistics were quite harrowing. Between 300 and 1,500 shipping containers are lost due to storms and/or human error every year, disappearing into our oceans. The number of shipping containers crossing our oceans and seas is increasing due to our ever-increasing consumption, with 25,000 containers possibly being transported on any one ship.

Rubbish from container spillages from decades ago is still washing up on our shores and around the world. The Lego spillage, ironically of marine-themed Lego, happened in 1997. Items from this spillage have been found locally. Please contact Strandliners at if you have found any as there is a data base you can add them to.

The rubbish being sorted into categories

Beach and river visitors are also responsible for some of the rubbish. Whether dropped on purpose or by accident is a question that cannot easily be answered. This comes down to educating each other and understanding the consequences and repercussions of litter.

60-80% of litter comes from inland, pushed into the drainage system and gutters by weather conditions – wind and rain – and then ending up in our coastal waters via small water courses and rivers.

Some people still flush their personal care products down the toilet and when local water authorities jettison their sewage at times of harsh weather when flooding is a risk, it ends up in the sea. On a trip to Peacehaven waste water treatment works, Andy discovered what items get flushed down toilets – wet wipes, cotton buds and lots of other items beyond the requested poo, pee and paper. Again, education alongside understanding of consequences and repercussions is needed.

And some rubbish comes from the fishing industry, which I always find surprising, as I imagine fishing folk as wanting to look after the source of their employment and earnings.

Food packaging, one of the largest categories of found litter

Historically, our plastic consumption and therefore rubbish accumulation began in the 1950’s, with the conception of throwaway living with disposable nappies, plates and TV dinners, etc. Back then, the yearly production of plastic was minimal, but has increased dramatically until the present day – with a predicted 1,000m tonnes of European production by 2050. The film The Story of Plastic offers a real insight into plastic production.

The four hours plus we spent together passed quickly – with a feeling that we had really made a difference in terms of collecting much needed data for national and international research, collecting piles of rubbish and leaving human-debris-free areas behind us – and meeting fellow like-minded committed souls, including Jazz the border collie who, apart from being a tad distracted by the collection of litter-picked tennis balls, was a perfectly attentive team member.

Do you know anyone who works in shipping law?

Please let Strandliners know. They would be very grateful.



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Posted 15:44 Wednesday, Nov 23, 2022 In: Clean Seas Please!

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