The UK's Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has called for a deposit return scheme to be applied to single-use plastic drinks bottles to stem the flow of littering along the country's coastline.
The latest MCS Great British Beach Clean found more than 8,000 plastic bottles on the country's beaches in a weekend last September.
The charity said there had been a 34% rise in overall beach litter collected year-on-year, with an average of 99 plastic bottles picked up for every kilometre cleaned across 340 beaches from Orkney to the Channel Islands.
Plastic bottles were up 43%, metal drinks cans up nearly 29% and caps and lids up 41%. Only glass containers saw a decline, down by less than 1%.
Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch manager, said the introduction of deposits on single-use bottles would lead to “a massive increase in recycling and a change in people's behaviour from simply throwing items away”.
She went on: “Deposit return schemes are nothing new. Lots of people will remember taking pop bottles back to the shop and up until last year the makers of Irn-Bru were returning 30p on glass bottles. Currently such schemes run successfully in Germany, Denmark, some states in Australia and in the US.
“Studies have shown that a scheme can reduce the amount of littered drink containers, lead to more recycling and contribute to the circular economy – where resources are used again and again to extract maximum value.”
The MCS found Wales to be the only country in the UK where there had been a reduction in beach litter, and plastic bottles were down 39%, although it added that this was “almost certainly as a result of the very high levels of 2014, where more bottles were found on Welsh beaches than anywhere else”.
Commenting on the MCS' proposal, Mike Jordan, owner of Summit Recycling Systems, said: “Plastic doesn't pollute – people do. The only way to collect waste is to give it a value. Then it will be collected. You could impose fines, but this is not sustainable.”
Jordan said he believed an element of any deposit could be used to fund recycling activity, with consumers getting 3p back from a 5p deposit, with the balance going towards recycling work.
“The contribution could fund in-store balers [at retailer outlets] for example. Then people who don't care about the deposit and discard the item will certainly have their loss collected by someone who sees the value in collecting,” he said.
However UK packaging research body Incpen countered the MCS proposal, saying there was “no evidence” that deposit systems prevented litter.
“Even in Sweden which has a deposit system, irresponsible people still litter containers,” it said in a statement. “The most recent report from the Swedish anti-litter organisation Håll Sverige Rent shows photos of littered containers.
“Worse than that, deposit systems undermine recycling. The UK has invested heavily in kerbside recycling. Let's continue to strengthen and build on it, not divert the most valuable materials to a parallel system that would require more lorries on the road, increase emissions and carbon and be costly and inconvenient for consumers.”
Incpen said the UK could learn from other countries, however. When Germany introduced a DRS in 2003 its recycling rates dropped and more than 10 years later has still not recovered to the same level.
Jane Bickerstaffe, Incpen director, said: “We live in a beautiful country, let's keep it that way.
“It's great that so many people volunteer to clean up litter but it would not be necessary if we all take responsibility for putting all the things we no longer want – whether it's a till receipt, bottle, medical waste, apple core or fishing net – in a bin.”