Single use plastics head up beach litter

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Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

In 2019, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful marine litter surveyors recorded an average of 508 pieces of litter per 100 meters of beach.


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This equates to an estimated 3.3 million items of litter on our coastline at any one time.

Plastic not surprisingly makes up over 78% of the waste on Northern Ireland’s beaches, including many ‘single-use’ items such as drinks bottles, food wrappers and broken pieces of plastic. 



In fact, such is the extent of the ‘plastic problem’ that 6 of the top 10 most common littered items on NI beaches were found to be derived from single-use plastics.

There were also many short pieces of string and rope, which may have originated from fishing activity. 

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One of the key indicators of the abundance, composition and trends of litter in the marine environment is the amount on beaches.

The surveys of beach litter are carried out 4 times a year by trained volunteers across 11 ‘reference’ beaches around Northern Ireland’s coast. 

Commenting on the 2019 Report, Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA said, “I welcome the publication of the Marine Litter Report 2019 and acknowledge the excellent work that Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful do in partnership with my Department.



“This year’s report highlights the steady progress being made in tackling marine litter in Northern Ireland, leading to a cleaner, greener place to live.

“The figures reveal the stark reality of litter on our beaches, with over 22,000 pieces of litter collected across 11 beaches, with 78% of this made from single-use plastic.

“It is a reminder of our continued fight against plastic pollution and its devastating consequences,” he continued.

“We all want to see changes where we live and see a continuing reduction in the number of pieces of litter appearing in our waters and along our coastline.

“With summer upon us and an ease on coronavirus restrictions, many of us may choose to holiday at home.



“However, I would remind people of the need to ‘leave no trace’, to take all their litter home with them and recycle it where they can. 

“By adjusting our behaviours and acting responsibly we can all play our part in further driving down marine litter and making a day at the beach enjoyable for everyone, whilst also protecting our marine wildlife,” he added.

Every reference beach is cleaned within two weeks of the survey by a range of volunteers from; families and local groups to schools and businesses.

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In 2019 nearly 600 volunteers got involved to help clean up the beaches, collecting over 540 bags of litter from the 11 reference beaches alone.

Jamie Miller, Local Environmental Quality Manager for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful stated, “Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is grateful to all those who dedicate their valuable time to survey, record and remove litter from beaches in Northern Ireland.

“As the results of their invaluable work shows, the vast majority of litter on our beaches comes from single-use plastics.

“Removing these items from beaches is a small step towards tackling a very large problem in our seas, which we are only just beginning to understand,” he added. 

You can read the full report at


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