• This snap shot highlights the big offenders in plastic pollution
  • British Science Association calls on the public to join in beach clean from their sofa
  • Esri UK, mapping and spatial analytics company, has created an interactive map showing where these unusual pieces of litter have washed up: http://bit.ly/2GPTfKV 

The British Science Association and charity The Plastic Tide have revealed the most common - and unusual – things they’ve found on Britain’s beaches. To mark the start of British Science Week 2018, these organisations are helping clean up the nation’s beaches of litter.

The challenge for British Science Week is to get members of the public to tag the plastic they see in the thousands of images recorded by The Plastic Tide: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/theplastictide/the-plastic-tide/classify?workflow=6211. This will help train a computer to catalogue the images automatically, providing an unprecedented picture of the scale and nature of the problem, and how to tackle it.

Since The Plastic Tide’s launch a year ago, a total of 3,000 items of litter have been detected on 30 UK beaches. Plastic rope and small net pieces top the list of the most common items. Plastic from food packaging makes up 21% of all rubbish littering the coast in The Plastic Tide’s snapshot. Some of the more unusual items recorded include a dolphin spine, a solar panel mushroom and a 20-year-old Lego Cutlass.

A solar panel mushroom: one of the weirdest items found by The Plastic Tide on UK beaches

From plastic straws to a toilet seat and a headless teddy bear, the list comes in part from The Plastic Tide’s work taking aerial photos of the UK’s beaches. The team is harnessing the power of drone technology to survey seashores, from the Isle of Mull in Scotland to west Cornwall, for the presence of plastic.

British Science Week’s aim is to get over 250,000 image tags in this critical project to clean up the UK’s beaches – from the comfort of their sofas - as they help build a tool that can understand not only where plastics and marine litter come from, but what kind and how much. The Plastic Tide has over 7,000 registered volunteers to date, and have classified over 1.5 million images in the 12 months the project has been live. 

Thanks to the public who have already been categorising images, The Plastic Tide can reveal the 10 most common items found in their snapshot of UK beaches are:

  1. Plastic rope/small net pieces (37%)
  2. Plastic or foam fragments (29%)
  3. Plastic food wrappers (7%)
  4. Plastic bags (5%)
  5. Plastic bottles (4%)
  6. Fishing lures and lines (4%)
  7. Container caps (3%)
  8. Fabric pieces (2%)
  9. Plastic jugs or containers (1%)
  10. Straws (1%)

Plastic cups and food packaging are some of the biggest offenders in ocean pollution

The Plastic Tide has also released photos of the top 5 most unusual items to have washed up on beaches across the UK – including a 20-year-old Lego Cutlass, which is one of 5 million pieces of Lego that were lost at sea after a shipping container was hit by a freak wave. Ever since, pieces have been washing up on beaches across three different continents.

The most unusual items to wash up on UK beaches are:

  1. Lego Cutlass  
  2. Solar panel mushroom  
  3. Dolphin spine  
  4. Headless teddy bear  
  5. Toilet seat  

In a recent study* by Environmental Psychology Lecturer, Dr Kayleigh Wyles, from the University of Surrey, it was found that littered beaches also have negative impacts on our mental state, as well as on the environment. Although we often feel calmer and experience an elevated mood when we are beside the sea, the presence of litter on beaches can detract from this and even have a detrimental effect on our mood.

Peter Kohler, founder and director of The Plastic Tide said:

“Marine creatures die each year through starvation due to eating plastic that stays in their stomach making them feel full. It is estimated that we eat up to 11,000 pieces of microplastics a year, and if nothing is done to tackle the issue of plastic in our oceans, it’s estimated that there will be 80 million metric tonnes of plastic going in to the sea a year by 2025.  The good thing though is everyone has the opportunity to be part of the solution. Helping identify rubbish on The Plastic Tide site will be one invaluable way of helping to keep our beaches clean.”

Ivvet Modinou, Head of Engagement at the British Science Association said:

“Everyone can get involved in science and British Science Week is the perfect way for people of all backgrounds, ages and interests to take part in a project like The Plastic Tide and make a difference. We encourage everyone to put their scientist hat on today and start tagging! Help us reach our goal of 250,000 images tags and clean up the beaches from the comfort of your own home.”

Ben Flanagan, Technical Research Lead for Esri UK added:

“By visualising the findings on a map it’s simple for people to see the impact of plastic pollution on our coastal shoreline.   We strongly endorse the work of The Plastic Tide and encourage members of the public to get involved by tagging the plastic debris they find on our beaches.”

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said:

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy, Sector Deals and Grand Challenges we want to develop the technology of tomorrow. Tackling the growing and serious problem of the amount of plastics washing up on our beaches is vitally important and the British Science Association’s project is a fantastic opportunity for the public to get involved and help create plastic free beaches now and in the future.”

The Plastic Tide use drone technology to scan beaches for litter