Marine Conservation Society condemns rise in bathroom rubbish found on Scottish beaches and urges the public to ‘bag it and bin it – don’t flush it’
People in Scotland are putting far more down their toilets than they should be and the result is beaches awash with items like cotton buds, condoms, sanitary towels and tampon applicators, according to the latest findings from the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Beachwatch Big Weekend 2010 report.
Despite litter levels on Scottish beaches falling in 2009 from an all time high in 2008, last year average litter levels in Scotland shot up with over 2,000 items of litter for every kilometre of Scottish beaches surveyed in the MCS annual clean up. The data collected also revealed a shocking 32% rise in the amount of sewage-related debris in Scotland – that’s the stuff we shouldn’t put down our toilets but in the bathroom bin instead.
Scotland had the highest average litter levels in the UK of six out of the seven sewage-related debris items that MCS records: condoms, cotton bud sticks, nappies, tampons/tampon applicators, toilet fresheners, and sanitary towels/pantyliners/backing strips.
MCS Scottish Projects Officer, Anne Saunders, said: ‘We are dismayed that the overall amount of litter within Scotland has risen by 24%. However, what is even more worrying is that when we look at the individual sources of litter, sewage-related debris has risen by a massive 32%. We can easily stop this disgusting source of litter from reaching Scottish beaches by not flushing items such as cotton bud sticks and sanitary waste down the toilet.’
MCS Beachwatch Officer, Lauren Davis, says the figures reveal a shocking picture of what people do in the privacy of their own bathroom: “Increasingly, people seem to be putting things like cotton buds, condoms, tampons, tampon applicators and sanitary towels down the loo and flushing away with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ perception. Sewerage networks are not specifically designed to remove these sort of items and unfortunately more and more are ending up in our rivers and then on our beaches.”
In Scotland the MCS Beachwatch Big Weekend 2010 results were collected by almost 800 volunteers who cleaned 57 beaches, covering over 22 kilometres on the 18th and 19th September 2010. 53,162 items of litter were collected.
Anne Saunders says the rise in this sewage-related debris highlights a gap in the knowledge of the Scottish public: “When people drop a cotton bud down the loo after cleaning their ears, applying make up or drying baby’s creases, they have no idea that the same cotton bud could end up on their favourite beach, washed up just where they want to put their towel down. There is a serious misconception that once it’s flushed away, it’s gone. But it just isn’t. We want people to follow our simple message – bag it, bin it – but don’t flush it. Stop using your toilet as a wet bin.”
The MCS message strikes a chord with the water industry too. Rob Mustard, General Manager, Waste Water Operations, Scottish Water, said: ““When sewers and pumping stations get blocked, they overflow and sewage escapes into rivers. This can have an impact on the wildlife and the environment.
“In Scotland it is estimated that a shocking 340 million items of sanitary waste are flushed every year and 55 per cent of all sewer blockages are caused by people disposing of cooking fat down their sink.
“Every year around £6 million of customer’s money is spent by Scottish Water trying to fix these blockages and repair the damage. We dealt with over 51,000 choked drains last year and we need the help of the public to bring this number down.”
Scotland is the only part of the UK so far to commit to a marine litter strategy, but this could all change if there is a new Scottish Government after the election on 5 May. “If you are concerned about litter on your favourite beach then highlight your concerns with the candidates standing in May’s elections, so we can make sure our beautiful beaches receive the protection they richly deserve. Ask them to commit to a marine litter strategy if they are elected,” says Anne Saunders.