The now UK-wide charge for single use plastic carrier bags has had a significant impact on the amount being carelessly thrown away by consumers, according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
In its latest Great British Beach Clean report, the MCS said the number of plastic bags found across 364 beaches around the UK – which had been ‘swept' by nearly 6,000 volunteers over one weekend in September – had fallen by 40% in a year.
The North West of England saw the greatest reduction in bags found along 100-metre-long stretches of coastline, down 67%, while the South West witnessed a 63% fall. In the South East the figure was 51% lower than last year.
In Scotland, where a 5p charge has been in place since 2014, the decline was smaller, at 10%, while Wales, which introduced a charge five years ago, saw littered bags down by a third.
MCS Beachwatch manager Lauren Eyles, said the charge had been vindicated in terms of lessening the impact of bags on the country's beaches: “In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of 10 single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned.
“This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we've seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations.
“It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment. Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had.”
However Eyles said the figure of 268,384 individual pieces of plastic picked up by MCS beach cleaners was a “disaster”, despite the amount being less than last year's tidy-up operation.
Analysis from the MCS said that 43% of the litter found on UK beaches was too small to identify, and it was impossible to accurately predict where it had come from.
While the figure of an average of 649 littered items collected per 100 metres was a 4% decrease on last year, data collected by Great British Beach Clean volunteers also showed a rise of more than 4% in the quantity of drinks containers found – including plastic bottles, bottle tops and aluminium cans.