27 June 2019
Sand Bay Beach + 52 Smidgers + 2 Marine Conservationists + bags of enthusiasm = perfect recipe for beach clean success!
On Tuesday, June 26th we had the pleasure to attend our very first beach clean. In the morning, the whole Smidge Team headed down from our Bristol offices to Sand Bay Beach (South West, UK), next to Weston Super Mare, where the lovely Lizzie and Caroline from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) were waiting for us. It was not only a day of fun and great teamwork, but also an opportunity to learn more around beach pollution and how this is affecting our seas and oceans.
First things first…
What is a beach clean-up and why are they important?
A beach clean-up is an activity, normally organised and carried out by volunteers, that aims at cleaning a beach or a section of it from all sorts of beach litter (mainly plastic, but not only!).
The collection of trash makes the coast a cleaner and safer place for beachgoers as well as facilitating marine conservation. While this is not an ocean pollution solution in itself, it helps keep our coasts clean and preserve our seas’ ecosystems as a result.
Some beach and ocean pollution facts…
The trash and plastic on the beach are a direct result of two possible causes: they either come from the sea and get washed up during the tides or are the direct result of littering on the beach by people who visit the coast. Either way, this is a reflection of how much plastic waste is affecting our environment and how big a problem plastic pollution is.
Among the litter polluting our beaches, some of the most common items are: cigarette butts, plastic bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, foam take away containers, plastic bags, plastic lids, straws, stirrers, glass bottles, cotton buds, wet wipes, balloons. Sadly, most of these are made of single-use plastic and a lot of them cannot be recycled.
Recycling charity Recoup estimate consumers in the UK go through 13 billion plastic drink bottles every year, a lot of which go to waste. During the 2018 Great British Beach Clean by the Marine Conservation Society, an average of 16 drink bottles and cans were found for every 100m stretch of beach surveyed. Despite plastic being a convenient material thanks to its durable and lightweight nature, its these exact characteristics that make it a threat to our environment – plastic can stick around for literally hundreds of years before biodegrading.
As some areas of our oceans currently contain 6 times more microplastics than plankton and countless marine species are endangered, we are happy to see that things are – slowly but surely – changing for the better! Did you know that MCS have recorded a 47% decrease in plastic bags on UK beaches since the government introduced the plastic bag charge measure in 2011? Also, microbeads have recently been banned in wash-off cosmetics, whoop! And are you following the news around #WarOnPlastic, #OurPlasticFeedback, #RefillRevolution and #PlasticChallenge? As we look at the possibility of our seas having more plastic than fish by 2050, we are optimistic that all the attention generated by the public and the media will lead to concrete actions that reduce plastic pollution (not only plastic in the ocean but also on land) as well as have a positive impact on our day-to-day relationship with single-use plastic!
Our beach clean experience with the Marine Conservation Society
Here at Smidge we believe it takes a little thing to make a big difference. As we know we cannot single-handily solve the world’s single-use plastic issue, our aim is to encourage little day-to-day changes which promote an eco-friendly (as well as stylish and practical) lifestyle. With Plastic Free July around the corner, we couldn’t think of a better way for our team to get down-and-dirty (or shall we say down-and-clean) than a beach cleanup day with the Marine Conservation Society.
We woke up to a miserable, rainy day… yeiii, not! But our spirits were not defeated… we had our hearts set on cleaning Sand Bay Beach in the South West of England and were ready to take up the challenge no matter the weather. As Lizzie and Caroline from MCS met us at the beach and we set up the gazebo, the weather luckily cleared up a bit and, although still being well aware we were not on a tropical beach, the rest of the day was dry and that was good enough for us!
After a brief introduction and having split up into teams of 4 or 5, we all grabbed the cleaning equipment kindly provided by MCS (litter picker sticks, gloves, bags) and headed off to the selected 100m of beach to be cleaned during the morning. Here’s a ‘fun’ fact for you: MCS organise beach clean activities 4 times a year to pick litter in this same strip of beach; they do so to keep record of all the rubbish items they find and in what quantities. They then use this data to inform our local and national governmental bodies, but also to undertake specific campaigns that target the more harmful and widespread items of trash! Every trimester, when a beach clean is carried out at Sand Bay Beach, kilos and kilos of new plastic litter and other kinds of rubbish are collected from the beach.
As the teams worked through the beach meter by meter, we recorded every single piece of waste we found and bagged. Among the most common finds: plastic wrappers, pieces of foam containers, plastic bags, cotton bud sticks, plastic lids, plastic bottles and cans, rubber items, sanitary waste, glass bottles… for a total of 1302 litter items (25kg) in just 100 meters of beach – and that was just in the morning! If you are interested in learning the details, here is a really interesting summary provided by MCS with the stats of what we found:
After lunch, a very interesting quiz picked our brains on plastic waste, recent positive changes which are having a great impact on reducing plastics as well as amazing activities and achievements by MCS. Do you know the answer to the question Lizzie asked to proclaim a quiz winner – how many species of turtles exist on earth? Read on if you’d like to find out the answer…
The afternoon saw us do some free-style beach cleaning, which brought the total litter count up to 66kg! We never thought litter picking could be so rewarding. Leaving Sand Bay as a clean beach was such a great feeling. This day provided us with an opportunity to see with our very own eyes how much plastic pollution affects our surroundings as well as how big a difference we can make by getting involved. This experience has brought our enthusiasm to a whole new level and we came home knowing that our efforts as a team are going in the right direction.
Our tips for a fully enjoyable beach clean experience
What to wear and bring
As you will have gathered by reading the above, you need to be ready for any kind of weather: if it rains, you’ll need raincoats, wellies, hats, waterproof backpacks. Also, you’ll need to be very careful as rocky beaches become really slippery when wet. If it’s sunny, don’t forget sun block, hats, sunglasses and a reusable water bottle to keep hydrated (have a look at our Smidge water bottles if you still haven’t got one). Regardless of how lucky you are with the weather, make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes/flip flops, so you can happily hop around.
Beach clean tools
In terms of tools that will make your life easier, big garden bags to collect litter are great as they are sturdy and won’t end up breaking while you are enthusiastically cleaning. Also, gloves are a must – some of the litter you’ll find can be sharp (e.g. pieces of glass, cans) or not very clean (sanitary items, needles), so it’s best to wear protective gloves at all times. Litter pickers are a great bonus: while they are not strictly necessary to carry out a beach clean, they can be of great help as they prevent you from having to bend down every other second.
Beach clean stats and data
By working with MCS, we realised that keeping a record of what you find is not essential, but can be really valuable for marine conservation and coastal conservation research. By performing a quick search, we’ve found some apps that help you keep track and even allow you to share your findings on social media. While we haven’t tried them ourselves yet, we think it’s a great idea to help raise awareness and show off your efforts.
I want to get involved, where can I start? And how do I organise a beach clean?
This of course varies massively depending on weather it’s you and a couple of friends setting off to the beach to get some fresh air, a nice swim and collect some plastic waste for the greater good, or you’re trying to organise a team building activity for your company.
If the main goal is an enjoyable day out at the beach with your family and friends and the number of participants is small, you can of course plan this yourself. No action is too little! Just refer to the tips above if you are unsure as to what you will need to make sure you leave a clean beach behind and come home without a cold or a sunstroke.
If on top of the above, you’d also like to meet new, like-minded people, there are several organisations and volunteer groups who meet regularly to clean together. These activities are a lot of fun and can be great both if you are beach-clean virgin as well as if you are a more experienced and weathered beach cleaner. You can find local beach clean events on the Marine Conservation Society website here. Also, the 2019 Great British Beach Clean is coming soon – September 20th-23rd. At this link you will find information on scheduled local beach cleans near you as well as details on how you can plan your own beach clean event.
For companies wanting to organise team building activities and promote team days out, or even just seeking to help a bit in reducing plastic pollution, we strongly recommend getting in touch with the Marine Conservation Society, who can help you plan the day and will bring to the table much more than just kit and equipment – enthusiasm, passion as well as a wealth of knowledge in marine conservation and ocean pollution are just the first 3 things that come to mind!
If a beach clean is not really your thing (no judging here, to each their own!), there are plenty of other ways you can get involved. You can donate to MCS, help them fundraise, become a sea champion (this one sounds so cool, right?!) and lots more – find details on all the ways you can get involved here.
We’d love to hear from you…
Feel free to get in touch on social if you’d like to know more about what we do and our beach clean experience with MCS, or if you’d like to share your own beach clean memories and pictures.
Oh, and we almost forgot… the number of turtle species in the world is 7. Did you guess right? :)
For more information on zero waste and plastic free products that can help make a difference, visit this Eco-Friendly Products collection.