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A Year of Beach Cleaning by Sarah Bell

David McCann   Mon 04 Nov 2019

“There will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050." Although it may seem like a distant reality, sadly it is a fast approaching consequence of our mass consumption of plastic. Plastic production is set to increase by 40% in the next decade as it can be found in almost everything we lay our hands on. The reason we favour plastic so much is because of its durability, it carries our food and drink from all corners of the planet, it is used in our favourite electronic devices and it dispenses our most-loved hygiene products. However, as a nation we struggle to process the vast amount of plastic in our homes and workplaces. The U.K does not have enough recycling systems in order to deal with our waste and so, it is shipped off to developing countries. Understandably these countries cannot manage the extensive amount of unsorted waste and it is dumped into landfill sites or most frequently, the ocean.

According to Surfers Against Sewage, "There are 51 trillion pieces in our oceans, which is 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy." Surfers Against Sewage is a marine conservation charity established in 1990. It was one of the earliest beach cleaning groups and continues to be one of the most influential in the U.K. Their name was inspired by Cornish surfers who complained of raw sewage floating in the ocean. In the 90's water treatment systems were not up to scratch and waste was drained into the sea, but the work of SAS led to major investment in sewerage infrastructure. Now the leaching of plastics from poor waste management, litter, sewers, fishing and factories takes centre stage. SAS holds two big, volunteer led beach cleans every year, the Big Spring Clean and the Autumn Beach Clean. They have inspired people across the country to set up their own groups or to take part individually in a #minibeachclean and many beaches now provide a litter picker.

Beach cleaning is one of many ways to fight plastic pollution and it is crucial at a time where our beaches are particularly vulnerable. I began beach cleaning in October 2018 after watching a BBC news report about the litter problem on shorelines in the U.K. I volunteered with Beach Cleaners- Ards and North Down which I found through Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. The group was created by Regan Smyth and Lesley Crawshaw joined soon after. Lesley became the organiser of clean-up events and administering the group’s Facebook page. When I set out on my first clean-up I expected to pick up very little as after all, it was just a quiet, Northern Irish beach! Well, this belief was quickly turned on its head. An hour later and I was completely stunned by the amount of litter I had retrieved. It was often difficult to locate as litter was hidden amongst seaweed, plunged into rock pools and discarded in grassy verges. Once we reconvened I carried out a little recce on the contents of my bag and items such as plastic bottles, straws and packaging were rife. Above all, my bag was full of smaller fragments, also known as microplastics, and on the beach these pieces were often indistinguishable.

Whilst on holiday in September 2019, I visited a beach in the south of Mallorca and from a mere 2 yards of beach I managed to collect two handfuls of microplastics. As you can see, this contained pieces of balloon, fishing net, bottle tops and can openers. Plastic is subject to harsh UV rays and rough currents and it breaks down into increasingly smaller pieces which are easily ingested by marine animals. National Geographic states, "Scientists have found microplastic in 114 aquatic species and more than half of those end up on our plates." Plastic is making its way into our food chain through the fish or shellfish we eat and this is why beach cleaning is more important than ever.

Let's fast forward 365 days later and I continue to carry out cleans with Beach Cleaners- Ards and North Down. I am driven by a desire to protect our seas, but it is also my constant reminder of the reality of plastic pollution. The experience has been hugely thought-provoking and has led me to make small changes in order to reduce my everyday consumption of plastic. I want to encourage others to do the same, so I regularly share pictures of my findings on social media. I spoke to a fellow beach cleaner, Phil Wilkinson, who also hopes to raise awareness through his photography. However, Phil has a much more interesting perspective than I do as his photos come from the depths of the ocean. Through his lens we discover the magnificent array of creatures that live below the surface and the litter destroying their home. Phil often dives with Seasearch NI who aim to identify the various types of marine life and the underwater sites which require protection. Whilst on a dive a few months ago, Phil captured a photo which really stood out to me as I felt it highlighted one of the most damaging pollutants, fishing gear.

Abandoned fishing equipment causes a magnitude of problems for the environment. The UN Environment Programme stated, "Ghost gear is the most deadly form of marine litter out there," as their design poses a real threat to sea life. There are hundreds of instances worldwide where animals have become entangled in fishing gear and on Saturday 2nd November a seal was found on Ballywalter beach, Newtownards with a fishing line around its neck. It had deep lacerations and this caused its untimely death. Fishing nets are made of two types of highly durable plastics, polyethylene and nylon and as they break down over hundreds of years they shed microplastics into the heart of the ocean. Unlike a discarded plastic bottle or coffee cup, fishing gear takes a great deal of effort to remove as some can expand to the size of a football pitch. When I asked other members of our group about their clean-up experiences, fishing was a common theme. Most mentioned that they almost always find abandoned lines, lures and nets or rubbish left behind by fishermen. It is wholly unsurprising National Geographic found that fishing gear makes up 46% of ocean plastic.

Throughout my time of documenting clean ups I have noticed there are recurrent offenders and most are everyday items. The leader of the pack is undoubtedly, wet wipes. A recent BBC documentary called 'The War on Plastic' revealed that a single wipe is made up of 75% plastic. Up until last year many companies endorsed the flushing of wipes and this has caused a mass build up in sewers, also known as 'fatbergs', which are eventually pushed out into the sea after heavy rainfall. Wipes are a significant problem for the health of our ocean as one wipe can outlive most of us 6 or 7 times over. Other recurrent hygiene products include sanitary towels, tampons and cotton bud stems which are also being flushed and adding to fatbergs.

On a very recent beach clean I came across several pieces of Lego which I thought had been left behind by a small child. However, I came across a Twitter page dedicated to 'Lost Lego at Sea'. It turns out in 1997 nearly 5 million pieces of Lego fell into the sea when a huge wave hit the cargo ship, Tokio Express, washing 62 containers overboard. One held over 4.7 million pieces of Lego. I cannot confirm if this piece was lost from the same shipping container but if we were to believe it was, it indicates the robust nature of plastic. Despite being dumped 22 years ago and travelling hundreds of miles from Lands End, Cornwall it remains entirely intact.

We are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy such glorious beaches along the Northern Irish coastline and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is one organisation who seeks to preserve our precious landscapes. Beaches are evidently a hot spot for socialising, particularly during the summer months. Thus, the most common items are often related to eating and drinking and from the images below you could probably piece together the remains of a barbeque or picnic.

Indeed it is this irresponsible attitude towards littering that plays a significant role in the progression of plastic pollution. David Attenborough recently said, "Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet," therefore, we can no longer hide behind a lack of education. We are all aware of the fragile state of our oceans, landscapes and climate and we must each try our very best to protect our planet.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has made it easy to get involved in beach cleaning through their Live Here Love Here campaign. This is a people powered initiative where communities can come together and clean-up, green up or spruce up their local area or beach. Under their 'Events' page you can find information about beach cleans being held across Northern Ireland.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have been working with Culture Night & Day (CNB) to support them in their journey to reduce single-use plastic. To kick things off they added their Plastic Promise, making their commitment public and to encourage everyone to get on board. As they continue to reduce their use they can revisit their Plastic Promise at any time and set new goals and targets and get higher up the leadership board.

This year CNB took a stand against plastic, they are committed to reducing on-site waste, meeting green objectives and developing more sustainable ways of producing their event. Focusing on proper recycling, encouraging festival goers to bring their own reusable bottles, cups and food containers, informing traders to easily accept and encourage reusable items and much more. Check out their green checklist for more information.

Simple things.. just by encouraging people to bring their reusables to events like this one and when out and about can make a big difference. Such as, polystyrene food containers and coffee cups used for only a matter of minutes to suit our convenient lifestyle are avoided and less overall waste clogging up our already over stretched collection systems. If we just take a moment to stop, think and prepare we can enjoy the events like this one, but not contribute to the aftermath of litter and bin waste.

Our Young Reporters for the Environment also got involved and one student, Maria Aaroy, from St Dominic’s High School (pictured above) took the opportunity to interview Joe Nawaz, Marketing & Communications Manager at CNB. Joe shares with Maria why they decided to add their Plastic Promise, the importance of CNB being a sustainable, green event and what their aspirations are for the future. To watch this brilliant interview vist the Eco-Schools Facebook page.

We all need to play our part in reducing our use of pointless plastic. We need more events, organisations, individuals declaring their Plastic Promise and taking action. Sign your Plastic Promise now!

Visit http://www.liveherelovehere.org/plasticpromise

Making small changes everyday to eliminate waste.

David McCann   Mon 09 Sep 2019

Cathy Gorman is a Project Officer with Eco-Schools

Since last week was Zero Waste Week I thought I would share a few things I’ve been doing in my day to day life to reduce waste, especially plastic waste. As with most people I have become increasingly aware of single use plastic in my life. I am Eco-Schools Officer with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful but more recently I became Mum to the amazing Amelia! Anyone that’s ever seen a baby knows they come with a lot of “stuff”, and a lot of that stuff is made to be disposable, for added convenience. I’m going to go through my changing bag so you can see some of the changes we’ve made to reduce our waste production:

Nappies. Nappies were the biggest source of single use plastic that I could see on the horizon so I started to look into alternatives before Amelia arrived. My mum always bemoaned terry towels from when I was a baby, trying and abandoning them within a short space of time – having a newborn is hard enough without learning the art of towel origami and the stress of safety pins after all! But things have moved on since then. Nowadays reusable/cloth nappies come in a variety of styles ranging from the classic terry towels to all in ones, which are the same shape and structure as disposables. I found lots of websites with reviews and came to realise that different styles suit different babies (and parents!) so I didn’t want to dive right in without trying some first. Some googling revealed that there is a Nappy Library in NI, where you can hire kits with a range of brands and types for a month. So that’s exactly what I did! There’s a wealth of knowledge and an amazing online community to support you if you’re thinking about making a change to reusables. That’s not to say we didn’t use any disposables, the first week we did as I decided I had enough to get my head around but we started to slowly swap in the hired reusables, figuring out which type we preferred. Once we had an idea I looked online and found a pre-loved nappy group on Facebook, where I managed to snag a stash of the type we liked for an absolute bargain! Extra eco-points for buying pre-loved ;)

An argument against reusable nappies is the energy needed for the increased amount of washing you’ll have to do. This is something you have to weigh up for yourself, I decided that the extra washing, done mostly at 30o , had a lower environmental impact than the tonnes of plastic waste being sent to landfill. From my research cloth nappies also seem to be better for babies’ skin.

Baby wipes. I’ve never liked wipes, they're thin and slippery, never mind the obvious environmental and cost implications. So as soon as we were home from hospital we started using fabric wipes. I dare you to try them and not prefer them! They come in a range of materials (cotton, bamboo or microfiber) and colours. My husband got a little bit obsessed and we now have a stash of all 3 types so we should never have to buy wipes again! I’ve found them to be a lot more effective than baby wipes, needing fewer to do the same job. They will last us well beyond her baby years, into being a mucky toddler and beyond. When out and about I have wet bags in my changing bag to put used wipes and nappies in, and once home they go into a tub before being washed every other day.

•Also in my changing bag is my bamboo cutlery set (which was a brilliant gift at the Eco-schools NOM in Cork!) And my collapsible coffee mug – I hate being out and not having a re-usable mug with me when I need one so this means I always have one with me for emergency caffeine! (Find me a new parent that doesn’t need emergency caffeine!).

•Not in the changing bag, but as a result of doing so much more washing we have recently purchased a Guppy bag, which catches the microplastic fibres released in the washing machine. This was actually my husband’s idea, although it was me driving the nappies and wipes he has been fully converted to reducing waste wherever we can!

When I was pregnant and telling people I planned to use reusable nappies and wipes I got a lot of funny looks and comments, even from like minded people. People can be a bit funny at the thought of having to be so hands on with poo but thankfully it’s not a literal issue. Changing any nappy involves getting close to poo but once you get into a routine and habit we’ve found it really isn’t a problem. You do have to be a bit more organised when using reusable nappies and wipes and stay on top of the washing so you don’t run out but you don’t have to be all or nothing with it, even having one or two nappies will make a considerable difference to the number of nappies being sent to landfill, but don’t be surprised if you get hooked by all the cute patterns!

The main thing I’ve taken from this is to reach out, ask questions and just give things a go! The worst that will happen is that you don’t love the alternatives, the best is that you’ll save a lot of waste from being produced!

“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anne-Marie Bonneau

Plastic pollution: Compostable Packaging Trial

David McCann   Tue 02 Jul 2019   updated: Wed 03 Jul 2019

Claire Hudson is our Single Use Plastic Coordinator.

Public awareness of plastic pollution is on the rise and businesses are also taking action to reduce the amount of pointless plastic they use.

As part of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s Tackling Plastic NI Project (funded by DAERA), we’re currently trialing compostable packaging items throughout Ards & North Down, to reduce plastic pollution on our streets and shores.

Through the Live Here Love Here campaign and Ards & North Down Borough Council’s RCIF Scheme we visited on-the-go retailers and asked if they would like to get involved. We got chatting to business owners who had already invested in compostable packaging, those who had thought about it but hadn’t yet taken the plunge and those who it was all new to.

With 625 bits of litter found on our beaches every 100m, 78% of which was plastic, including polystyrene food containers, plastic cutlery, food wrappers, plastic bottles and tops, as businesses and consumers we need to make changes fast.

We worked closely with local waste management company, Natural World Products, who had carried out trials on specific compostables to ensure items were 100% certified as compostable.

Participating retailers will be educating their customers on how to dispose of compostable items correctly. Either by giving back to the retailer or putting them in their food caddy/bin. Look out for the compostable packaging in Ards & North Down area with the Live Here Love Here and RCIF logos. Make sure to tell the shop what you thought. We want to understand how well compostable items work from both vendor user view. We all need to work together and make small sacrifices to our convenience driven lives to reduce pointless plastic and help the environment in which we live. If your favourite sandwich shop is using single-use plastic, especially polystyrene, ask them to source alternatives, or ask if you can you bring your own food container. Small changes can make a big difference.

Our message:

If you don’t need it, don’t use it – don’t just pick up the plastic cutlery or straw ‘just in case’

If you use it, source an alternative – bring your own reusable food container, or choose to buy from a business using an alternative to plastic for takeaway food.

If you do use plastic – ensure you recycle/dispose of it properly, if it can be recycled take it home, if it can’t make sure it’s disposed of in a bin and won’t end up on our streets or beaches.

Check out the BBC coverage on the trial: http://tiny.cc/5i448y

Reduce your use of pointless plastic. Whether you're a business, organisation or individual, make your Plastic Promise here http://tiny.cc/0tk68y


Small Actions = Big Difference

David McCann   Wed 17 Apr 2019

Mrs Owens,Eco Coordinator from St Michael’s Primary School writes for The Last Straw about how her school achieved a massive reduction in Single Use Plastics

Our Eco-Committee at St Michael’s Primary School decided to tackle the amount and types of waste that were gathering in the school after carrying out an Environmental Review back in September 2017. One key area was of course plastics and we’ve made some big efforts to reduce our use as a school over the past year. To make sure we could recycle plastic properly we contacted Belfast City Council who gave us lots of helpful advice. Each classroom received a large bin for recycling plastics and pupils and teachers were asked to recycle everything they could.

In January 2018 the pupils on the Eco-Committee talked about the problem caused by plastic straws being used with the milk cartons every day in class. The office provided figures for the number of cartons of milk being consumed in each class and the figures were worked out for the whole school (each child using one plastic straw per carton of milk):

266 cartons per day x 5 days = 1330 per week = 5320 per month

A lot of plastic straws!!

Some research was carried out and compostable straws were sourced online and the school purchased thousands of them to stock up for the rest of the year. Since January 2018 NO plastic straws have been used in school. This reduced our plastic waste going to landfill! Also, one of our P5 Eco councillors suggested that as the straws we ordered were full size straws and our milk cartons are kiddy sized, we should cut the straws in half and get double the value. The whole school has taken this idea on board and it’s saving us more money….well done Ellie McDermott!”

Our caretaker also reported that banning plastic straws saved on plumber’s bills for clearing pipes under sinks blocked by plastic straws that had slipped down the plug hole!

What we did next...

Next… we tackled the lost property box. The plastic in our clothes can also lead to plastic microfibers getting into our oceans, so we need to think about the amount of clothes we buy and what we do with them once we’re finished with them. We had a very large lost property box of good quality school uniforms, which we didn’t want going to waste, better to reuse than throw out or buy new! The School Councillors got involved at this stage and sorted all of the clothing into items with names that could be returned to their owners to prevent buying more and clothing that could be washed and reused. We decided to organise a ‘Pop-up’ recycled uniform shop and put out a request to parents for contributions of uniform that they no longer needed. The response was amazing! Parents not only contributed items but also purchased items from the shop. We would like this to become a regular feature on the school calendar.

To encourage the whole school community to get involved our Eco-Committee came up with the idea of organising an Eco-week in early April 2019. This involved lots of emails to various organisations and people drawing up a full time-table of events to ensure that everybody could take part in Eco Week. An email was sent to all parents to make sure they were aware of the activities and to encourage them to support their children. One of our plastic initiatives is encouraging all the children to come to school with as little packaging as possible in their lunch boxes and NO single-use plastic water bottles are permitted.

We are delighted the whole school community got involved and will continue to reduce our use of plastics in our school!

Are you serious enough about littering?

Ian Humphreys   Mon 30 Jul 2018

There seems to be a growing disparity between those who care about where we live, and a minority of people that quite literally couldn't care less. The few whose littering is on daily display are a disgrace and an embarrassment. Visitors to our beautiful part of the world leave confused and bewildered. Such a welcoming friendly place, beautiful scenery, treated like a giant dustbin.

Do the litterers have no conscience? Do they not realise their own children will have to live with the after effects, with plastic in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat?

Dense accumulations of litter lying in our verges, floating down our rivers and washing up around our shores. This is what we now see and expect to see. It reflects on the whole of our society; that we have allowed this to happen. There is no benefit in blaming others, in shirking our personal responsibilities to help maintain the standards we expect. Can we challenge the environmental incivilities and anti-social behaviours we see? Do we have the courage (yes, safely) to ask someone to pick up their litter? Would we even support the council by reporting in incidents of littering – easily done when from vehicles – so that fines can be issued?

No other body invests more or employs the army of staff to remove our daily dump of litter, than Councils. Yet here too more can be done. The postcode lottery for fines must end; fines must be greater; staff shifts should match the times when offences are taking place (dog fouling particularly needs different patterns of working); and other government bodies need to take litter as seriously as Councils do.

Businesses have to accept not only that a proportion of the wrapping used to sell their confectionery, cigarettes or drinks is ending up as litter but also that they have a responsibility to tackle this issue too, in a way and on a scale not yet seen.

Pointing the finger of blame in a different direction is just an excuse not to do anything, which is an implicit acceptance of how things are now. This situation is unbearable for many people – to see our country being trashed by a thoughtless minority. If we really want it to change then the finger pointing has to stop and we all have to just start investing more time, money and effort in changing what we can within ourselves and our organisations, and into making the position on littering behaviour clear to all our stakeholders. No more excuses.

I heard a case of a triathlete being disqualified (given a ‘did not finish’ result) after being seen throwing his water bottle over a hedge. A rare case of taking this issue seriously enough. We probably already have disciplinary rules that prohibit the bringing of our organisations into disrepute. What if we explicitly brought in and communicated a statement that ties littering behaviour into such policies and procedures?

Just a thought.

Life on the verge

David McCann   Mon 16 Apr 2018

Noel McKee from the Whitehead Wombles writes for the Last Straw about "Life on the verge"

There seems to me to be a spectacular amount of effort put in to littering our country. How else can our roads, hedgerows, beaches and grass verges become so utterly filthy? Someone’s got to do it and yet no one seems to want to own up about their particular part in the degradation of our countryside. We no longer have verges by the roadside, just grass covered mounds of rubbish.

I started litter picking fourteen years ago around the streets and beaches of my home town of Whitehead in Co Antrim. It’s a beautiful place to live so I took upon myself to go out and litter pick. It grew from going around the town; to tackling the roads that lead into Whitehead, until eventually I was able to stretch as far as Kilroot, some four miles outside the town. I regularly lift around thirty bags of litter each month on that one stretch of road alone.

Our small group makes a difference but we know we are fighting a losing battle. For every piece of litter we lift, a thousand pieces are dropped. It has become so easy, and some would say acceptable, to throw litter from our cars. The vast majority of what I lift has come from this source. We don’t have to use any energy or thought when it comes to trashing the place where we live. With fast food containers playing a large part in litter blight it is important to get the message across that it’s a takeaway, not a throw away. Are we going to wake up to what we are doing?

It’s not one particular group that’s responsible, it’s everyone, from the rich executive throwing her coffee cup out of her very expensive car, to the child, carelessly dropping the sweet wrapper on the ground. I feel saddened when I pick up the remains of a Happy Meal or similar, with the toy still fully wrapped up in its plastic covering meaning either the child has thrown it out the window of the car or they have seen the so called grown up do it, leading them to believe that it’s the done thing.

Enforcement of fines has proved fruitless and is most definitely not working. Adverts and posters are pointless, ineffective and timid. It’s time for a proper hard hitting campaign of shaming our society into changing their mind set. The Blue Planet series shown on the BBC recently has at last got us talking about the inexcusable amount of waste created by us.

What a legacy to leave our children and grandchildren. A planet, millions of years in the making and we manage to pretty much destroy it in a hundred and fifty. Great work indeed, “Sorry kids made a bit of a hash of that.”

Where then do we begin to make the change so that we can learn to inhabit a cleaner, more environmentally friendly place? In my opinion it’s about getting into the schools and youth groups to educate our young people. I recently carried out a series of talks in our local primary school. I took two bags of litter, freshly picked from the roadside that morning to show them there was nothing clean or pleasant about litter.

They were able to see first -hand and up close the filthy reality of litter. A hard hitting, direct message that was well received and has resulted in three more families getting involved in keeping the town clean.

It’s also about adopting the Norwegian model of a deposit scheme for single use plastic bottles. All plastic bottles have a one Krona charged levied on them which can be reclaimed when they are deposited in a state of the art container. I’d be a rich man if this scheme were to come in here.

I would urge everyone from government bodies, charities and councils to break away from prehistoric thinking. Admit that what you are doing is not working and start listening to the people who are doing the work on the ground. Be more hard hitting, start working more effectively and efficiently and learn to collaborate with the people who know what they’re doing.

EU Ambassadors Approve New Waste Laws

Ian Humphreys   Tue 06 Mar 2018   updated: Thu 08 Mar 2018

In my previous blog, I highlighted that we were on the verge of taking a big step towards tackling litter. The new EU Waste Framework Directive contains some really interesting proposals that I will discuss below.


It is five years since Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, alongside several other organisations, set up the European Litter Prevention Association (ELPA) in Brussels. It has been working hard ever since to convince officials that litter needed to be called out. Thankfully they have listened, helped no doubt by all the media coverage on plastic pollution.

All (currently) 28 member states have endorsed the provisional agreement proposed back in December 2017 under the Estonian Presidency. This establishes minimum requirements for all extended producer responsibility schemes with producers of products bearing responsibility for waste prevention measures and the prevention of littering.

A wider package of measures also begins to addresses transnational litter issues including marine litter, which we know from our own research is coming mostly (80%) from terrestrial origins and means we have to step over a disgraceful four items of litter for every metre we walk along our shores.

What’s it all about?

The EU parliament is expected to formally endorse the text of the new Directive next month, allowing Ministers to adopt it without debate and publish it in the EU Official Journal from where it will come into force. All we have to hope for then is that writers of the Great Repeal Act don’t forget to include it!

So what does the new Directive specifically have to say about litter? Distilled out of the full text by Eamonn Bates, Secretary General of ELPA, it looks like this:

  • It has been explicitly stated that tackling litter should be a shared effort between competent authorities, producers and consumers.

  • Dropping litter becomes an offence in all EU countries. Citizens who do not take their responsibility seriously will be breaking the law and subject to fines or other sanctions.

  • Member states must develop a national litter prevention strategy as an integral part of national waste management plans. In future, national plans will be required “to combat all forms of littering and clean-up all types of litter” (that could include, for example, tobacco waste, chewing gum, packaging, newspapers and magazines, paper personal hygiene products, and others).

  • Member states must identify the products that are the main sources of littering in the natural environment and take measures to reduce them. This can help address the marine litter problem.

  • Producers will be required to pay for public information and communication campaigns on prevention of littering. This is key as today’s on-the-go lifestyles increase the risk of products being dropped as litter.

  • A clear obligation has also been placed on Member States to change behaviour through continuous communication and education initiatives to raise awareness on the issues surrounding waste prevention and littering.

  • The Commission is charged with promoting information exchange between member states and the actors involved in producer responsibility schemes on best practices to ensure – among a range of other things – the prevention of littering.

  • Clarified to cover collected litter. By doing this the Commission and Parliament have clarified the share of responsibility for litter that falls to local authorities covers cleansing activities.

Final Thoughts

As a pedant, my only remaining concern lies in the use of English across the EU. In many places the Directive says that so and so ‘should’ do something. I would rest easier if it said ‘must’, which is what I believe it really means. But maybe I am too cynical?

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, and I am sure many others, will welcome this focus on litter prevention. With tangible passion and encouraging optimism the environmental sector will use these new legislative levers to the full. All we need to do now is get a lot smarter at communicating our critically important messages.

* I am told the word litter doesn’t translate well across the many EU languages. So in the original directive the word waste was allowed to mean waste and litter. Of course, in English, these can and are seen as different things and so it is no surprise litter fell completely off the radar. Oops!

The Last Straw - 5 Things You Never Knew About Litter

Cathy Gorman   Wed 24 Jan 2018   updated: Fri 02 Mar 2018

Welcome to our new blog on the disgusting, unsightly and costly habit of littering. In the first of the series CEO of environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Ian Humphreys, introduces the subject of litter. If litter gets your goat and you want to contribute contact Ian here.

Off our trolleys: litter removed from a small Belfast river by volunteers

Over the coming months this blog is going to dig into the issue of litter. How do we deal with the proliferation of single use plastics? What role do legislation, taxes and levies have to play? And where does responsibility for litter really lie? Whatever you think, society at last seems to be saying littering has to stop. We have reached the final straw. Image: Off our trolleys: litter removed from a small Belfast river by volunteers

To start though, we’re taking a lighter look at litter…

  1. Littering is as old as the hills
  2. Back in 2012, whilst completing a litter clean-up on Rathlin Island, I came across what must be one of the oldest pieces of litter in the world. It was identified as a 5,000 year old flint scraper tool used by our ancestors for cleaning animal skins. I guess that once it became too small or blunt to use it was chucked away. There’s not much call for flint scrapers these days but the 24/7 culture of eating and drinking on the go means the fight against this deadly scourge is increasingly challenging.

  3. Women started it all
  4. Yes they did, but I’m not talking about littering. Quite the opposite. The Women’s Institute started the clean-up movement that became Keep Britain Tidy in 1954. I imagine litter then consisted of glass bottles being left in the countryside by city dwellers, leading to fires on those rare summer days when focusing the sun’s rays could ignite a flame. So began the fight against what I guess we might term ‘modern littering’. In the year 2000 devolution led to the establishment of TIDY Northern Ireland, which rebranded as Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful in 2014.

  5. The origin of the word litter is…
  6. The word litter derives from the habit of throwing out old bedding (think cat litter or a litter for carrying someone on) onto the street, probably once there were too many bedbugs living in your old straw mattress or when a bumper wheat harvest meant a new one was on special offer. The word litter doesn’t translate too well across Europe and in some countries waste has to cover both what we think of as waste and litter. Thankfully, litter at last looks like being specifically included in the Waste Directive Amendments.

  7. You pay for other people littering
  8. Across Europe street cleaning costs are measured in billions. Here in Northern Ireland we spend over £45million a year or £55 per ratepayer, whether you litter or not. That’s £25 for every man woman and child (even if they are still in nappies). That’s unfair, I say. Not having to spend rates on cleaning up after people could allow us to protect precious greenspaces, parks and beaches, which are the envy of the world. A clean and pleasant land is much easier to entice visitors to and for businesses to invest in, because it reflects very clearly the intent of the population here around how we care for each other, for nature and for employers too.

  9. More plastic than fish in the sea
  10. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastics (by weight) than fish. Now whether that’s true or just roughly true seems to me irrelevant. The fact is that plastic is turning up everywhere in increasing quantities, including – as micro-plastics - in our fish supper. That’s not on! It gets worse. These tiny pieces of plastic are sucking up toxic chemicals out of the seawater and loading them into the fish we eat. I feel sick just writing about it. Thankfully the EU is taking action: I hope we don’t jettison environmental standards in our rush to leave Europe.

    Round Up

    Despite the light-heartedness I’ve tried to show just how costly, negative and damaging litter is. The likes of Sky Ocean Rescue and BBC’s Blue Planet II have really ignited people’s passion and now it is time to not just stop littering but to fundamentally change the way society operates.