Marine Litter

Marine litter is everyone’s problem, but why? 

Marine litter is a global problem. Every year many millions of tonnes of litter end up in the oceans, making it the world’s biggest landfill. Marine litter is now present in every ocean and poses the fastest growing threat to our oceans and coastlines.

The marine environment is effectively a sink for litter and pollution with 80% of litter/debris entering the marine environment from the land.  60% of marine litter is plastic and can enter the marine environment from many sources including, wind-blown litter, run-off from land and waste water discharges.  Plastic does not biodegrade and breaks into smaller and smaller particles over time, eventually resulting in microscopic particles known as microplastics.

Larger bits of plastic such as plastic bags and bottle tops can be ingested by larger animals such as birds, and turtles eventually killing them by blocking their gut.  Microplastics can be ingested by everything from zooplankton which make up the base of the food chain in the oceans, all the way up to seabirds, fish, turtles and whales. Research has shown that they can adversely affect growth and reproduction.

Find out about Marine Litter policy in Scotland

Marine litter in Argyll and Bute

Across Argyll and Bute, beach and marine litter is affecting our coastline, coastal waters and marine life.  It can also be significant amenity issue in places and very time consuming and costly to remove from shorelines.  The litter which is washed up on beaches and the shoreline is a small proportion of what is either floating around in the sea or sitting on the seabed.  Removing litter, particularly plastics from the shoreline reduces the environmental impact of litter on the marine environment.

Plastics remain the most prevalent type of beach litter with sewage related litter sometimes higher than other parts of Scotland, particularly in the Helensburgh and Lomond area. Beach cleans occur right across Argyll and Bute and the amount of litter collected can vary considerably each year dependent on changes in effort.

Available data from The GRAB Trust and Marine Conservation Society identifies that on average the annual amount of beach litter collected (excluding large scale clean-ups) is around 1500 bags, covering an area of 2-300km and involving around 1300 volunteers.  The amount of litter, corrected for effort and length of coastline has been remained similar over the last 5 years (2012-2016).

Council’s involvement in marine litter

While the Council recognises beach litter as a significant amenity and environmental issue the majority of our coastline is privately owned and our duty as a ‘principal litter authority’ under the Environment Protection Act 1990, is limited to either land in our ownership or land under our direct control or management.  In respect of its relevant land the Council has a duty to ensure that the land is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse.

Across Argyll and Bute, the Council’s Amenity Services go beyond this duty and on prior arrangement will collect and dispose of bags of litter collected by local groups and organisations during community beach cleans.  For larger clean-ups where large volumes of litter/debris need disposed of, support and assistance can only be provided where resources allow and are therefore considered on a case by case basis.

The Council recognises marine litter as a significant issue and is a contributing member of the Argyll and Bute Beach Forum (ABBF) which is an informal grouping of organisations and agencies which meets annually to discuss beach related issues, marine litter, research, and share good practice.

Find out more about Argyll and Bute Beach Forum

The Council is also a member of KIMO UK which is represented by local authorities across the Highlands and Islands with a shared concern over pollution and marine litter.  KIMO’s flagship marine litter project is ‘Fishing for Litter’ where fishing boats collect litter caught in their nets and dispose of this appropriately at local ports. KIMO UK is supported by the parent organisation KIMO International.

Find out more about KIMO

Work of other organisations

Beach cleaning

Beach cleans are primarily undertaken or coordinated by beach cleaning organisations such as the Grab Trust, ReJig and Beachwatch Bute and local communities or community groups.  Around 10% of the beach cleans are registered with the Marine Conservation Society beach litter programmes and submit detailed information on the amount and types of beach litter collected.  This data is collated and reported annually and gives a basic understanding on emerging trends in the amount of litter and any changes in the presence of specific types of litter.

Education & campaigning

A number of organisations run educational projects on beach litter targeted at schools and communities across Argyll and Bute.  The GRAB Trust runs a Beach School project which has recently been expanded to cover all four local planning areas in Argyll and Bute.  Educational activities are also undertaken by Re-Jig on Islay, Beachwatch Bute and the Marine Conservation Society across the UK.  All of these organisations support and promote Scottish and UK campaigns related to reducing marine litter at source and the environmental impact of marine litter, both raising awareness and lobbying government.

What can we do about it?

There are many things everyone can do to help including: recycling, using less single use plastic in our daily lives, using consumer power to buy responsibly, supporting litter campaigns and getting involved in local community beach cleans. For further information and to get more involved please visit the following webpages:

The GRAB Trust


Beachwatch Bute

Marine Conservation Society




Keep Scotland Beautiful