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

Diary of a Litter Picker: We Will Fight on The Beaches

We are an island nation. Our coastline is precious. It speaks to us of freedom, holidays and relaxation. Those who live near beaches are well aware that they attract visitors who boost the local economy, and yet our shoreline is often covered in rubbish.

I find hundreds of small pieces of fishing net, plastic wrappers and cellophane, washed up on the Solent, along with glass bottles and rope. It’s been going on for years, threatening the environment and wildlife, if not our sanity.

This is historic litter found lodged in bushes along the Solent shore. Much of this is more than ten years old.

After a while it melds with the landscape, remaining a risk to animals. Below, you can see what is typically brought in on the tide.

There is often the remains of one shoe. Have we come to accept the phenomenon of an errant flip-flop? The lettering on this one amused me.

We have begun to accept society’s cast-offs, but why so many plastic pegs?

Metal fish, their hooks elsewhere.

There is often a lot of blue. Perhaps it’s the recent prevalence of masks.

This mask was worn over the eyes, rather than mouth, but she’s wearing protective gloves.

This is a battle we all need to fight. The bottom line is that we can’t even use beaches if there is too much broken glass.

Be a litter hero and turn the tide on plastic pollution. Day by day, we’ll get there.

My helpers on a Solent litter-pick

To see a collection of the weirdest this found on a Solent beach clean, please click here.

The charity Keep Britain Tidy is asking everyone to join their million mile litter picking mission #GBSpringclean – Please click here for details

Litter Pickers of the New Forest Beach Picker of the Year 2020

Diary of a litter-picker: finding elderly rubbish by the sea

Every day we collect aging plastic pollution, cans and glass bottles from Solent shores.

This old glass bottle seems representative of our time of Corona. How long has it been floating around the Solent? Fifty years?

The Litter Pickers of the New Forest found me this 1960s advert for the original bottles with the same cream metal cap.

The Deposit Return Scheme running at the time ensured that most were returned to the manufacturers but I’ve found a couple on the shore. One that held ‘Limeade’ with a 3d deposit return label is selling for £23 on Ebay where it is described as ‘a lovely piece of nostalgia.’

A year later I found this vintage bottle (above) washed up in exactly the same place. How many more will arrive there?

How old would this re-useable Unigate milk bottle be? 1980s? Forty years? They have also become collectors’ items. One like this is valued at £15 on eBay. It was found in these willow trees just above the high tide mark. It might have come over from the Isle of Wight where ‘Milk and More’ ran deliveries.

You can just see a brand new mask in this photo (above) but the bottles and plastic containers were hauled out of bramble bushes a few feet from the sea where they have languished for years.

Here is a photo of the same footpath with more plastic bottles that have blown in, together with old glass bottles the earth seems to be spitting out. The message inside them is clear: this has to stop.

I found a Wellington boot, washed up or discarded, which must have been around for some time. It had a field-mouse living inside so, I left it for now, but there is plenty more like it.

This Walker’s Crips packet, found recently, is 24 years old. I have quite a collection.

Plastic is amazing stuff. My father manufactured products made from PVC. He said that back in the 1970s, his company never considered what would happen when the items they made reached the end of their useful lives.

Found on the Solent

What date did the squarish plastic milk bottles come in? How many are disposed of daily in the UK alone? How many are recycled? How long does it take for them to decompose? They tend to flake.

How long does it take for a Tescos ‘bag for life’ to deteriorate? I often find them in the Solent.

Fishing line undoubtedly lasts a long time. It can be difficult to spot.

I often find individual plastic pegs. Why is this? Do they fall off boats?

Collecting the old rubbish is satisfying. You can see more beach cleaning photos here

The Wombles of Hambleton have made up a list of how to age vintage litter:

* cans with an old style ring pull – the new style was used from 1989

* cans that pre-date the bar code (approx 1970s) are measured in fl oz

* older style names, disused names or products eg: Marathon

* pre-decimal prices – dated before 1971

* glass bottles before the switch to plastic eg: older Lucozade glass bottles

* look for competitions advertised on the packaging, which are dated

* products advertising sporting events eg: Mexico World Cup Coca Cola

What is this flotsam doing to the planet? Could you help clear it up? Would you join The Great British Spring Clean or other schemes run by the charity Keep Britain Tidy?

For a full list of things I found on beach-cleans please click here

A fourteen year old can of Coke – found unopened – on the Solent, along with many shotgun cartridges.