Scourge of wet wipes, but Northumberland’s beaches fare well

Seahouses beach.
Seahouses beach.
  • National rise in beach litter of 6.4 per cent from 2013-14
  • National average of 2.457 bits of litter collected per kilometre cleaned
  • In Northumberland, the figure was just 912
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Piles of wet wipes are littering our beaches as more people choose to use moist cloths to remove make-up, replace traditional toilet paper and apply fake tan, according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

According to the latest beach litter data collected by the MCS and published today in its Great British Beach Clean report, numbers of wet wipes found on beaches increased by more than 50 per cent in a single year, while the charity’s report also reveals a 6.4 per cent rise in beach litter between 2013 and 2014.

However, the litter levels on the North East coast dropped in the same period. Plus, nationally, 2,457 bits of litter were collected for every kilometre cleaned and surveyed in 2014 compared to 2,309 in 2013. In Northumberland, the figure for 2014 was just 912.

In the county, the survey took in seven beaches – Blyth, Cocklawburn, Cresswell Dunes (Druridge Bay), Newbiggin, Seahouses St Aidan’s, Spittal and Warkworth. Volunteers collected a total of 45 bags of rubbish and counted 3,290 items of litter. The highest number of bags of litter – 14 – were collected from Spittal, with Blyth the next worst on eight bags.

The increase in the number of wet wipes on beaches between 2013 and 2014 equates to about 35 of the little squares on every kilometre of coastline cleaned by the charity’s volunteers during the weekend-long event last September, which saw 5,349 volunteers clean and survey more than 300 beaches.

MCS Beachwatch Officer, Charlotte Coombes, says the problem is that wipes, often described as flushable, are being put down the loo instead of thrown in the bin.

“Our sewerage systems weren’t built to cope with wet wipes,” she said. “When flushed they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper, and they typically contain plastic so once they reach the sea, they last for a very long time. They can cause blockages in our sewers, and then, everything else that has been flushed down the loo can either back up into people’s homes, or overflow into rivers and seas. Overflows also happen during excessive rainfall, or if the plumbing hasn’t been connected up properly meaning the wrong pipes are heading straight to the sea. That’s when we find sewage-related debris, including wet wipes, on the beach.

“The latest results from our weekend-long Great British Beach Clean event held between September 19 and 22 show that plastic pieces are once again the most frequently found items on UK beaches. Mostly these can’t be identified so will almost certainly have been in the marine environment for years, starting off as something much bigger and then slowly breaking down – the problem is they will never disappear completely and research is underway to look at the impact these microplastics could be having on the food chain.”