Marine plastic litter (MPL) is a term used to represent waste products containing plastics which have entered the marine ecosystem. The UN Environment Programme defines it as “any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment.” Once it has arrived in the marine environment, MPL is extremely hard to remove; the IMO record that some items can take in excess of 400 years to disappear. Research by the IMO, shows that 80% of the annual input of MPL comes from land-based sources (littering on beaches or from sewage systems) while 20% comes from marine sources; predominantly from the fishing industry.
Coastal littering is an activity that results in waste material being left by people on the shoreline and/or in the water. People putting inappropriate material (fat, cotton-buds, wet-wipes) down toilets and drains is also of concern as this can cause sewer blockages, which can result in sewer flooding leading to discharges of raw sewerage into watercourses, degrading water quality. Littering material can vary greatly in type and size, but by far the most damaging to the environment are nonbiodegradable plastics; small pieces of plastic material are also more difficult to pick up in beach cleans and can be ingested by animals.
Littering nationally is of great concern, as well as in the Solent.The Solent Forum News Service reports on evidence monthly and in 2018 the Solent Forum produced a report on the extent of littering in the Solent.
In summer 2021 the Solent Forum began a new partnership project with the Environment Agency to develop the Solent Plastics Pollution (SPP) hub. SPP is an information hub to collate and publicise all the excellent work taking place around the Solent and its associated river catchments on litter collection and preventing plastic pollution. It will be in two parts:
The affect of littering in the Solent, particularly by plastics, is yet to be fully determined, although there is enough national evidence to show that plastic litter damages marine organisms. We do not currently know how litter affects the protected Solent Marine Sites (SEMS) habitats and species. The birds in the Solent may not necessarily ingest larger plastic pieces when feeding, but may be affected by the breakdown of plastic products into microplastics. Some birds and other species may be affected by microplastic bio-accumulation. The water chemistry of the Solent could also be affected by the accumulation of plastics. The SEMS Annual Survey, managed by the Solent Forum, has identified that there are concerns amongst some Statutory Authorities (Relevant Authorities to SEMS) in the Solent about littering. There have been reports of build-ups of litter in Langstone Harbour and Chessel Bay on the River Itchen.In Langstone Harbour, there was an increase in the amount of plastic food and drinks packaging. Condition Assessments of designated sites in the Solent do show a failure in water quality, in particular from nutrient loadings. It is likely that the actions of residents in their homes, when flushing inappropriate materials down the drains, will exacerbate nutrient loading in the sewer system, due to sewer blockages, resulting in raw sewage overflows into the marine environment.
Litter can also impact on the leisure marine industry and fisheries. Boat users can experience entangled propellers, entangled anchors, entangled rudders and blocked intake pipes and valves. Harbours and ports will also have to pay for the removal of litter accumulated. Plastic litter can impact on fisheries, reducing and damaging catches as well as damaging vessels. The types of litter that are most frequently caught in fishing gear are ropes and other plastics. The Solent Marines Sites (SEMS) web page on litter provides additional information on the impacts of litter on designated sites.
Portsmouth has joined a network of communities across the UK who are tackling throw away plastic at source. The city has been awarded Plastic Free Community status by marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in recognition of the work it has done to start reducing the impact of single-use plastic on the environment.
New Forest District Council have information on their website about how you can help safely with litter picking in the New Forest district. It includes guidance on family and individual litter picks, groups and organised events, planning your community litter pick and support for litter picking.
Guidelines for monitoring marine litter on beaches has been developed by OSPAR as a tool to collect data on litter in the marine environment. This tool has been designed to generate data on marine litter according to a standardized methodology.
A Seabin is a “trash skimmer” designed to be installed in the water of Marinas, Yacht Clubs, Ports and any water body with a calm environment and suitable services available. The unit acts as a floating garbage bin skimming the surface of the water by pumping water into the device. It can intercept: floating debris, macro and micro plastics and even micro fibres with an additional filter. It is also able to clean the water from contaminated organic material (leaves, seaweed, etc). It can easily be equipped with oil absorbent pads able to absorb petroleum-based surface oils and detergents. The Environment Agency have produced new best practice guidance on using Seabins with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The Seabin website records the locations of Seabins worldwide, zoom in to see Solent locations.
Following its successful introduction in 2020, Sea-Changers runs a Coastal Fountain Fund. The purpose of the fund is to reduce the impact of single-use plastic water bottles on coastal habitats by funding communities to purchase water drinking fountains and install them for use by the public in busy or environmentally important areas. Grants of up to £2,000 are available, per applicant, towards the cost of a fountain.
Working in partnership with 18 organisations from across France and England, Preventing Plastic Pollution seeks to understand and reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in the marine environment. By looking at the catchment from source to sea, the project will identify and target hotspots for plastic, embed behaviour change in local communities and businesses, and implement effective solutions and alternatives.
Find out about the Preventing Plastic Pollution's latest survey results on public attitudes towards plastics litter in rivers and at the coast.
Litter Free Coast and Sea (LFCS) is a project, coordinated by Dorset Coast Forum and funded by Wessex Water, which aims to reduce coastal litter and improve water quality along the Dorset coast. It runs a series of projects and campaigns to reduce litter.
The Countryside Code for visitors is a guide to visiting the countryside. It includes the rules you must follow when you’re enjoying parks and waterways, coast and countryside. Advice on litter is to:
Take your litter home - leave no trace of your visit. Remember to bring a bag with you and take your rubbish and food waste home, use public bins or recycle if possible. Litter spoils the beauty of the countryside and can be dangerous to wildlife and livestock. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offences.