Diary of a Litter Picker: Sea plastic and pick it up

A sample of sea plastic washed up on Solent shores, 2021

Plastic straws and cotton bud stalks, along with plastic tampon applicators and shot gun cartridges, have become a sad portrait of society: what the sea sees of us. Why do we come across so many short pieces of PVC rope and fishing net?

‘Sea kisses’ found washed up on the Solent 2021

I am told these ‘sea kisses’ are the result of trawlers shredding torn nets at sea and dumping this ‘waste’ overboard as it is cheaper and more convenient than bringing it ashore to be buried.

Will this ultimately poison fish and make them inedible?

All these micro-plastics have washed up on the shores of the New Forest National Park. I’ve been trying to make ‘beautiful pictures of horrible things’, as the broadcaster JJ Walsh describes my photographs and framed collages.

Cotton bud stalks indicate sewage is entering the Solent

Any throw-away plastic rings should be regarded as ‘wildlife crime’ – they strangle too many birds.

Do you know how much lead there is in a tennis ball? Despite the fact they they are not recommended as toys for dogs, huge numbers are washed up on our beaches. I find them all the time.

Tennis balls found on Solent beaches, 2021

One of my biggest hates are the plastic things used to sell six-pack drink cans as they easily get stuck around creatures’ necks. This four-pack plastic was washed up near a seabird breeding colony. I won’t even re-cycle one without cutting it apart.

Washed up near a major seabird breeding colony

The ear-loops on masks also need to be cut, along with PPE gloves. They are washed up on the shore every day.

PPE washing up on Solent shores daily

And there are always gloves –

The blob of blueish plastic in the palm of the large glove has already travelled through the digestive system of an animal.

Children tend to be good at finding micro-plastics on beaches once they catch the vision. We have begun classifying them by colour or type. This black party-popper was a favourite.

I’m assured that some councils need to check beaches for ‘sharps’ before volunteer litter-pickers are allowed to begin collecting in earnest. Can you spot the needle and syringe here?

Collecting all these tiny pieces takes time and one has to watch out for hazards – but if it is not collected children will no longer be able to play on our beaches. Some parts of the coast have so much broken glass that you can’t pick it up with a dog in tow. It remains sharp for decades where there is no wave action.

Broken glass collected on a beach where children play barefoot.

The Marine Conservation Society likes to classify sea plastic into Litter, Fishing by-products, and sewage-related finds such as cotton-bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators.

We counted 21 cotton-bud stalks collected with this haul

After collecting flotsam, it takes a different mind-set to do the sorting, but it’s important to analyse and report back on what the tide is bringing in.

Sea plastic littering the New Forest National Park

I began to collect fishing tackle in a crate that was washed up on the Solent. Let me know, in the comments below, if you ever need some of this for a talk on conservation or plastic pollution. I’m giving it away freely.

For a list of weird and elderly things found washed up on the Solent, please click here

Plastic detritus washed up on Solent shores where wild geese and New Forest ponies graze

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

8 thoughts on “Diary of a Litter Picker: Sea plastic and pick it up”

  1. The problem is sophie is we live in a throw away society. Also the emphasis on putting litter into bins seems to have been lost. I’m 50 and we were taught as children to put litter into bins or carry it with you until you find a bin. Unfortunately this appears to be no longer the case and people of all ages seem to be the culprits. I was once walking down a street in my town just as a school children were walking home from school. I saw one girl eating a pack of crisps then as soon as the bag was empty I saw the bag fly behind her. It’s almost like too much hard work to put it in her pocket and take it home. It seems to be this sort of selfish and lazy thinking, also not wanting to take responsibility for anything that we now have the problem of plastic being disgarded. I also believe that children growing up have had things too easy to the point that they no longer have to do tasks to earn anything. All they have to do is ask and they get it. Easy come easy go. No value is placed on anything which leads to a lack of responsibility and care.

      1. i believe the problem is two fold. Firstly television must take some of the blame as unlike the 1970s there are no public information films telling you to take your rubbish home with you and as I mentioned in my earlier post an attitude of don’t care and as mentioned by another commenter no real penalties. We can have laws in place until they come out of our ears but if none are enforced then they are useless and meaningless. Secondly as I studied psychology at university and based my dissertation on this, I believe this to be a fundermental issue. Parental styles. In the Western world only one works Authoritative parenting. This combines the best of two permissive and Authoritarian. High demand combined with high support children nurtured in this way grow into resourceful, independent and respectful adults. Unfortunatepy the emphasis seems to be on a more relaxed approach permissive parenting which is high love and support but with little or low expectation. This is what I believe has led to this easy come easy go, lack of care attitude. Children raised in this way have little independence are largely dependent on their parents and have less ambition. As another commenter said what is needed is re education both in the schools and at home, if not things will only continue in the same way.

          1. Parenting is important from the start and can be related to all sorts of behaviours including littering as children will litter and continue to do so if what they do does not incur a tougher penalty strong enough to change their behaviour. Children get used to the idea of being treated in a certain way which is why it is important to use authoritative parenting from the outset. This way they have a sound foundation to build on. Also attitudes need to be changed early in a child’s development, because after the age of 8 years if an attitude is not changed it never will be. Early parenting impacts on children’s behaviour for the rest of their lives, so respect and good behaviour need to be nurtured from an early age using reward and punishment for good and bad behaviour. Bad behaviour should never be rewared, but good behaviour should always be encouraged with rewards as good behaviour will follow. (Bandura). However for the immediate future we need to see a return to public information films displaying the importance of why we should not litter and the consequences of doing so on the environment coupled with fines for littering, then ensuring these fines are persued. As I mentioned laws not enforced are useless.

  2. I never cease to be amazed at the variety of stuff you find on the beaches; it really is disgraceful. Like the previous commentator, I think the answer can only be re-education concerning the disposal of casual litter, and much stiffer penalties for infringement. Easy to say, much more difficult to police. I do like your ‘beautiful pictures from horrible things’ though! It’s just such a shame that you find the material to create them.

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