‘A new form of pollution’: Discarded face masks and gloves found on a third of beaches

PPE litter picked up from UK beaches. Photo: Great British Beach Clean

PPE litter picked up from UK beaches. Photo: Great British Beach Clean - Credit: Archant

Discarded face masks and gloves were found on a third of beaches cleaned by conservationists during an annual beach clean-up - including in Norfolk.

Gorleston beach recently won a TripAdvisor award as one of the 'best on earth'. The results of the b

Gorleston beach recently won a TripAdvisor award as one of the 'best on earth'. The results of the beach clean prove how susceptible these beauty hotspots are to pollution. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

The charity’s Great British Beach Clean revealed some uncomfortable findings as volunteers went to work on beaches across the UK over a week in September.

Plastic gloves and face masks were found on almost 30pc of the beaches cleaned by the volunteers.

The results of inland litter-picks were even more startling, with 69pc of volunteers finding discarded PPE which is likely to make its way to the coast eventually.

In Norfolk, the cleans centred around Snettisham and Cromer - with discarded PPE collected at the former.

Cromer beach was targeted by volunteers in the Great British Beach Clean. Photo: Marcus Hickling

Cromer beach was targeted by volunteers in the Great British Beach Clean. Photo: Marcus Hickling - Credit: Archant


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Great British Beach Clean co-ordinator Lizzie Prior said: “The amount of PPE our volunteers found on beaches and inland this year is certainly of concern.

“Considering mask-wearing was only made mandatory in shops in England in late July, little more than three months before the Great British Beach Clean, the sharp increase in PPE litter should be a word of warning for what could be a new form of litter polluting our beaches in the future.”

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Like many other single-use items, disposable face masks and gloves pose a threat to wildlife on land and at sea.

Marine animals could mistake face masks and gloves for prey, or become entangled in their straps.

PPE litter picked up from UK beaches. Photo: Great British Beach Clean

PPE litter picked up from UK beaches. Photo: Great British Beach Clean - Credit: Archant

Meanwhile, drinks litter continues to be found on UK beaches, with an average of 30 drinks containers, caps and lids being found per 100 metre of beach surveyed this year.

Inland, almost all litter-picks (99%) found drinks refuse.

According to the Marine Conservation Society, this figure stood at 18 drinks containers per 100m in Norfolk - but given this came only from two surveys due to organisational limitations throughout the pandemic, it could be much higher at county-level.

Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Despite lockdown, with many of us spending more time at home, littering in public spaces has continued unabated.

PPE litter picked up from Scotland's beaches during Great British Beach Clean. Photo: Catherine Gemm

PPE litter picked up from Scotland's beaches during Great British Beach Clean. Photo: Catherine Gemmell - Credit: Archant

“Almost every single local litter-pick found at least one drinks container, which is incredibly concerning.

“An effective deposit return scheme would take the UK one step closer to a circular economy model and drastically reduce the volume of single-use pollution in the UK’s streets, parks and on our beaches.”

PPE litter picked up from Cornwall's beaches. Photo: Natasha Ewins

PPE litter picked up from Cornwall's beaches. Photo: Natasha Ewins - Credit: Archant

Volunteers were asked to record the type of PPE they picked up for the first time ever. Photo: Great

Volunteers were asked to record the type of PPE they picked up for the first time ever. Photo: Great British Beach Clean - Credit: Archant

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