Plastic bottles found at over 80 per cent of coastal sites, new study finds

Published by Niall Sargent on

February 13th, 2018

Plastic bottles were found at over 80 per cent of all coastal sites surveyed during the latest All-Ireland Coastwatch Survey on coastal waste and marine litter.

Launched this morning at Trinity College Dublin, the survey results indicate that plastic bottles are the primary macro litter item found on the island of Ireland every year.

The survey also points to coastal contamination from larger items such as landfill materials, fishing materials, and tyres.

The survey is based on an examination of 275km of Irish coast by over 2,000 Coastwatch volunteers at low tide. A survey site is a stretch of shore roughly 500m long, with volunteers walking and observing the chosen site.

Coastwatch survey plastic marine litter

Over 8,800 plastic drinks bottles were found across 82 per cent of all survey units, with an average of 18 bottles found every 500 meters. Bottle lids and drinks cans were also found in significant numbers.

Within Europe, Ireland is currently the top producer of plastic waste, producing 61kg of plastic waste per person each year.

Plastic bags were found at 40 per cent of sites, with an average of two bags found per survey unit, well below the peak of 18 bags per site found in 2004.

According to the Coastwatch report, this is a result of the “well thought out financial instrument” of the plastic bag levy introduced in 2002.

Karin Dubsky, Coastwatch handing report to the Minister for Environment, Denis Naughten, TD Photo: Niall Sargent

Landfill Waste and Microplastics

Landfill material, such as construction waste, was also found at a quarter of all survey sites, the highest rate in the past six years. Tyres, household furniture dumped at coastal locations and fishing gear were also found along the coastline.

The discovery of landfill materials along the entire coast is worrying, according to Coastwatch coordinator, Karin Dubsky, as it is a “mix of everything”.

She also pointed to the widespread discovery of micro-litter – materials smaller than a twenty cent coin. Plastic filaments were the most common micro-litter found along our coast, followed by polystyrene.

“We hope that there is a ray of hope with the Plastic Strategy at an EU level and the Waste Reduction Bill at a national level to bring down the levels of plastics found along the coast,” Ms Dubsky added.

The European Commission’s Gerry Kiely (left), Senator Grace O’Sullivan (center) and Coastwatch Coordinator Karin Dubsky (right) Photo: Niall Sargent

Also speaking at the report launch, Head of the European Commission’s representation in Ireland, Gerry Kiely, said that citizens all across Europe are “fed up with our throwaway approach” to plastics.

According to the Commission, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, less than 30 per cent of which is collected for recycling.

“Plastic is persistent,” he added. “Bottom line is if we don’t do something now, there will soon be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”

Coastwatch researcher Antoine Warrant and Senator Grace O’Sullivan Photo: Niall Sargent

Disposable Coffee Cup Survey

Coastwatch also launched a disposable cup survey this morning based on observations of almost 4,300 people in and around the Trinity campus.

The survey found that over ten per cent of those surveyed carried a single use drinks container and disposed of it in a nearby bin. Only three per cent were found to be carrying a reusable cup or flask.

Coastwatch researcher Antoine Warrant warned that the major increase in coffee consumption in Ireland in recent years will mean that more and more disposable cups will end up in landfill “if we don’t do anything” now.

He recommended that the Government bring in a levy on single-use disposable coffee cups to encourage consumers to carry their own reusable cups, with all proceeds ring-fenced for environmental projects.

Last November, the Government said that it aims to bring in a 15 cent levy on disposable coffee cups in an effort to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London