Scottish Greens accuse government of dragging their heels on marine litter

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  By Lynda Williamson

The Scottish Green Party are demanding action from SNP ministers on marine litter claiming that the delay in tackling the problem is harming the coastal economy.

In a question to ministers lodged on the 21st of June 2012, Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and environmental spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, asked the government:

“…when it will publish its consultation on a marine litter strategy and whether proposals will include a target for the reduction of marine litter?”

In his answer dated the 9th of July 2012, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environmental, Richard Lochhead MSP, stated that consultation on the draft marine litter strategy would take place in the autumn of that year.

In answer to a follow up question from Alison Johnstone lodged on the 7th of February of this year, Mr Lochhead explained that:

“A very successful stakeholder workshop was held in August 2012 and supporting research was published in September 2012. It was decided thereafter to support the strategy by undertaking a strategic environmental assessment which means that a draft strategy is now being prepared for consultation in the spring.”

Marine litter is a problem throughout the coastal regions of the world with the majority of it consisting of synthetic materials such as plastics which are often highly persistent in the marine environment. Plastic can take anything from 100 years to 1000 years to degrade depending on its properties and the environment it’s in. The proportion of plastics in marine litter is increasing, rising from 55% in 1994 to 64% in 2010. As plastics are buoyant, they float on the surface and are easily washed ashore.

Plastic litter is thought to be responsible for the deaths of up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 marine mammals and 100,000 turtles annually throughout the world. The majority die from ingestion or entanglement but longer term deterioration of ecosystems and the accumulation of toxins as waste breaks down also cause deaths among wildlife.

Scotland has an average of 2,382 items of litter per kilometre of coast which is higher than the UK average and is estimated to cost Scotland’s tourism and fishing industries at least £17 million a year.

Commenting on the problem, Alison Johnstone said:

“Litter, in particular plastic, is harming our environment and the coastal and marine economy. It kills wildlife and puts tourists off. Given the clear threat to jobs and businesses in our coastal communities the lack of action from government is baffling.

“Even with the efforts of volunteers who try to keep local beaches clean we are struggling to stay on top of the problem. Marine litter is largely preventable but it needs strong guidance from government.

“Manufacturers of products that end up in our seas and on our beaches need to take greater responsibility and industry needs better regulation to prevent spillages of debris. At the moment it’s council tax payers who are picking up the tab.”  

On the weekend of the 22nd to the 24th of March, the group Surfers Against Sewage will co-ordinate a national Big Spring Beach Clean aimed at tackling what campaigners are calling a marine litter “crisis”.

Hugo Tagholm, Executive Director of Surfers Against Sewerage, said:

“The marine litter crisis is a major issue hitting beautiful beaches around the UK. The SAS Big Spring Beach Clean empowers communities and educates the public on how we can all play our part in turning the tide of marine litter.”

Details of the Big Spring Beach Clean can be found at by clicking here.