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

Tennis balls found on Solent beaches, 2021

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.

‘Sea kisses’ found washed up on the Solent 2021

Why do we come across so many short pieces of PVC rope and fishing net?

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?

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

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 to many birds.

One of my biggest hates are the plastic things used to sell six-pack drink cans as they easily get stuck around creatures’ necks. The 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

Diary of a litter picker on Solent shores where I’m told, ‘There is no rubbish.’

‘I didn’t see any rubbish on the beach,’ I was told by a walker as I extracted plastic bottles and tins from the ditch leading down to it. I was glad. I’d cleaned it just before New Year.

Once by the sea I found a Christmas tree and collected half a bucketful of small pieces of PVC rope and elderly plastic that had been washed up on the shore.

Since this is an isolated beach, it shows how much plastic is floating around the Solent. Someone might like their plumb line returned.

While a few things are clearly dropped by mistake,

the amount of litter and ageing plastic on public beaches remains unacceptable. I cannot walk by without collecting it.

It takes a good hour to fill each of these buckets, which contain bags of dog poo and dangerous broken glass. They can end up weighing 4Kgs each.

What are helium balloons doing to the environment? I find one a day.

‘There’s no rubbish on the beach,’ I’m assured by walkers, the next week. I agree that it looks okay. It should be fine. I’ve cleared it a hundred times.

But, almost immediately, I find bottle ring and other items dangerous to wildlife. Then I come across fishing line, the fish hooks bound up in weed.

By the time I reach the end of the beach, I have filled my bucket, finding evidence of nitrous oxide canisters chucked into fires. The ghost rope alone could have caused havoc to shipping.

About this much plastic and glass washes up on a half-mile stretch of the Solent every twenty-four hours. It is not always easy to see it, but it’s there.

‘There is no litter,’ I’m told on approaching the foreshore with my dog-walking neighbour. We keep looking anyway. My friend spots this:

Before long, I had a filled my bucket. Again. Perhaps it’s only when you begin litter picking yourself that you appreciate how bad the problem is. Do join us!

And yet, we didn’t retrieve everything. Can you see what I see?

To see more photos of the odd things we find, please click here

Diary of a litter picker – on the Great British September Clean

I was told the beach was free of litter. It took me ten minutes to fill my builder’s bucket with flotsam. Do people simply zone out sea plastic and litter?

Some was old, but how long have PPE masks like this been floating around the Solent? I found two, along with the usual plastic bottles.

It is interesting to count and categorise what you find. The Marine Conservation Society list: litter, sewage and fishing gear but the reality can be hundreds of small pieces known collectively as micro-plastics.

Picnic litter is inexcusable.  With well-designed bins near the gate to the beach there is no excuse for this. Although some plastics, such as the straws and bottle-tops, have floated in on the tide, I found a neatly folded crisp packet tucked into the sea wall. Why?

Cotton bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators classify as ‘sewage’ since they are flushed down the loo – with things too revolting to photograph – and yet this is where our children play.

Fishing line makes up the majority of plastic pollution in the seas. We found an angler’s hook and line as well as commercial netting and floats. The fishhook, lying on the float, caught on my own finger.

We tried digging out one section of PVC rope but failed and had to bury it.

The reward for our work was finding a killer whale, a toy orca.

Since ‘Baby Shark’ has been popular in our family, this made our spirits soar, coming almost as a thank you from the sea.

We returned two days later to find half a bucketful of assorted detritus had either come in on the tide or been missed in earlier searches. Spotting a toy soldier amused me this time. I’ve found a couple of others further along the Solent coastline within the New Forest National Park.

For a list of really weird things found on previous beach cleans, click here

One thing is certain. I can no longer walk along the shore without collecting as much plastic pollution as I can carry. It always proves fun and gives us a sense of purpose higher than ourselves.