Why are you cleaning rubbish off the beach? That's the council's job...

Autumn Beach Clean Series: Sandhaven 30th October 2016

This month’s environmental endeavour took our hardworking volunteers to Sandhaven in South Shields. Our event was part of the Surfers Against Sewage Autumn Beach Clean Series that aimed to get coastal enthusiasts down to the beach to give a little back to our precious coastal environments. We were one of over 250 organised clean ups around the UK during the weekend, including others in our region at Tynemouth and Saltburn.

Straight To Work...

We met in the carpark next to the beach, which itself was already strewn with litter. A small council litter sweeper vehicle was doing the rounds… although it didn’t seem to be particularly effective as it swept right over cans and fast food packaging without picking them up.

Sandhaven is a popular beach, visited regularly by thousands. It’s situated close to the pleasure beach and during summer months, the area still feels like a bustling coastal town from my youth. Unfortunately, popular beaches are put under extreme pressure from human influence. Not all beach goers are as considerate as our volunteers, and the amount of litter that confronted us was shocking.

Litter at Sandhaven

Normally, beaches in the North East look really clean on first sight, and it’s not until you start to pay close attention do you see small items like cotton bud sticks and nurdles (tiny pellets melted down during the plastic moulding process) amongst the natural debris in the strand line.

It’s never a good sign when your eyes are drawn instantly to large items like dirty nappies, wet wipes and plastic bags.

Wet wipes turn nasty when you flush them
Single use straws cause havoc to wildlife
A bag for life?!
Can discarded on the beach
Balloon waste on the beach
A disgusting full nappy on the beach

Undeterred, our volunteers ploughed on and removed a total of 84kg during the hour long clean-up. A fantastic achievement!

During the event, our volunteers were collecting survey data for the Marine Conservation Society. This involved categorising and recording every single piece of litter removed in a 100m stretch of beach. In this area alone we removed 36kg of rubbish consisting of:

Sandhaven beach clean results chart

Full survey details can be found here

Volunteers record every single piece of litter removed inside the survey area

In Keeping With National Trends...

The majority of the debris was plastic. Worryingly, there was a significant amount of sanitary and medical waste. This suggests that not only is the beach under pressure from inconsiderate users, it is also effected by longshore drift and debris washed ashore by tides.

We’re sure you’d agree that you don’t want your children building sand castles amongst tampon applicators and condoms…. Which is just one reason it’s so important to keep our beaches spotless.

  • Filling Rubbish Bags
  • Makeshift Container To Carry Trash
  • James Litter Picking
  • One of our youngest volunteers Jack
  • Big smiles while cleaning up the beach
  • Big smiles while cleaning up the beach
  • Using a bucket found to carry more debris
  • A heavy fish box is difficult to drag along the sand!
  • Volunteers hard at work on Sandhaven Beach
  • Big smiles while cleaning the beach
  • Volunteers removing litter
  • Back of van filled with trash

There were a lot of visitors on the beach whilst we were cleaning up. A number of them chatted to our volunteers to find out what we were up to. Many seemed bemused that we would sacrifice our extra hour in bed to come and pick up trash. “Why are you cleaning rubbish off the beach? That’s the council’s job…” (an exclamation we hear every beach clean). We would love to change this perception. It may be one of the council’s many responsibilities. And we understand that it's difficult for councils to keep on top of coastal litter when their resources are already stretched to the limit.

At the risk of sounding like my mam shouting at me when I was a teenager...

WHY CAN’T PEOPLE JUST PICK UP THEIR OWN RUBBISH INSTEAD OF THINKING OTHER PEOPLE WILL DO IT FOR THEM.

If more could be done to educate and empower the public, the problem would be stopped at the source.

Until then, it would be amazing to see more people take ownership of the problem. Our volunteers are awesome, and without them we would not be able to make such an impact in a short space of time. How refreshing it would be if more people followed in their footsteps and proactively cared for our environment.

Our fantastic group of volunteers with their haul of trash

Of course, there’s no need to wait for an organised event! If every beach goer grabbed a few items of litter during their walk on the beach, it would have a massive impact on the problem. There’s a fantastic movement - #2MinuteBeachClean which encourages everyone to spend just 2 minutes of their visit to the beach to do a mini clean up and then post photos of the result on social media using the hashtag.

The Fifth Point team can’t help themselves when it comes to this – every trip results in litter removed just like the other day at St Mary’s Island when a rock pooling net became a make shift trash carrier!

If you’d like to get involved, then check out the 2 Minute Beach Clean website and our scheduled environmental activities.

Posted in Environment.

Nic Emery

Nic is one of the co-founders of The Fifth Point. She is a Master Instructor with a keen interest in environmental conservation.

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