April 20, 2007

Scottish Beaches Worst for Waste in the UK Cotton Buds Most to Blame


RECORD levels of sanitary products - more than three times the UK average - have been found on Scotland's beaches.

The humble cotton bud stick was the number one pollutant, with people all too eager to flush them through the sewerage system.

In contrast to the overall UK picture, where most litter could be attributed to beach visitors discarding rubbish, sewage-related debris represented the majority of litter found on Scotland's shores.

In the wake of the findings, reported in the latest annual Beachwatch survey, environmental watchdogs have once again urged the nation's households not to use their lavatories as "wet bins" and instead dispose of used sanitary products properly.

The report reveals that last year heralded the highest level of sanitary waste recorded since the annual surveys began in 1994, with two beaches in particular contributing the majority.

The survey by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), collated last September and published today, was carried out by 946 volunteers on 63 Scottish beaches. On average, 2091 items of litter were found every kilometre, of which more than 700 were sanitary items.

The density of sanitary waste found in Scotland was more than three times the UK average, representing nearly one third of all litter in the country.

Cotton bud sticks alone accounted for 8.6per cent of all litter gathered, the majority of which were found at the two beaches in Bowling and Helensburgh. For every thousand metres paced by Beachwatch volunteers, an average of 172 of the sticks were recovered.

Removing the two beaches - Saltings to Bowling and East Bay - would reduce the density of sewage-related debris in the survey, such as condoms, tampons and panty liners, to 105 items for every kilometre of beach, lower than the UK average.

Calum Duncan, Scottish conservation manager for the MCS, said: "Cotton bud sticks and other sewage-related debris on our beaches are not only disgusting to look at but, since the majority of these products are plastic, they also persist at sea for many years. "This should be an easy environmental issue to resolve and yet the public message isn't getting across - don't use your toilet as a wet dustbin."

The MCS points out that the trend towards increasing amounts of sanitary waste dovetailed with the cessation of funding towards a national campaign to dispose of such products properly. Whereas the level fell between 1996 and 2001, it has risen in the five subsequent years.

Emma Snowden, MCS litter projects co-ordinator, said it was no coincidence the figures had increased since the national Bag It and Bin It campaign stopped receiving government funding five years ago.

"We are urging water companies and the government to support the campaign, and for sanitary product manufacturers to label their packaging with information on the correct disposal, " Ms Snowden said.

"But, ultimately, it is people's habits that must be changed, and raising awareness through Beachwatch is a big part of that."

Beachwatch is the flagship event of the MCS's Adopt-aBeach project, which encourages volunteers to clean and survey their local beaches to identify the sources of litter.

Sand and shingle spoiled by rubbish

SNOOP cares little for the detritus that litters Helensburgh's East Bay beach.

As long as he has a stick in his mouth, this is one black Labrador who is content.

His owner, however, sees the increasing levels of waste washed up on this stretch of sand and shingle. In addition to the usual suspects - plastic bottles and bags, crisp packets and bottle caps - an abundance of sanitary products has made its way here from the sewage networks.

All along the high tide mark, buried amid driftwood and seaweed, lie sanitary towels, condoms and panty liners. And cotton bud sticks. Countless cotton bud sticks.

"I'm down here two or three times a day, and you see it without fail, " said George Lamb. "The beach is mostly used by people to walk their dogs, but it's a shame it's not used by more people."

Whereas residents of some polluted beaches might direct their wrath at daytrippers, Mr Lamb appreciates East Bay's problems are a consequence of debris gathered in the sewage and "south westerly winds".

"People flush this stuff in Gourock, Greenock or Dunoon, and it gets washed up here. It's not nice, but I don't suppose there's a great deal that can be done."

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