It is estimated that with every passing year, around eight million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans
This is the equivalent to five shopping bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline around the world - and this horrifically high number is on top of the estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic which already circulate in the marine environment.
The worrying part of these statistics is that unless something is done, this will only increase.
Looking at current trends, it is estimated by scientists that by 2025 the annual amount will be around twice as much, so ten full shopping bags of rubbish over every foot of coastline. A terrifying thought.
And the picture which enters the mind when you think of this amount, is the world’s most beautiful beaches strewn with plastic bottles, crisp packets and other food debris.
Our coastlines are being destroyed every single day
– both aesthetically and physically – with the great plague of litter which finds its way onto the shores.
So it is surprising to find that, despite this onslaught, actually not much support comes from the UK Government in paying for the clean up of the areas we should treasure the most.
In the UK, beach clean-ups are done almost overwhelmingly by volunteers who are trying to do their bit to help our world.
In many beauty spots in the UK, you will see signs asking visitors to pick up their litter but, in reality, a lot is left behind by people who clearly just do not give a second thought about leaving without clearing up after themselves.
Land-based sources of rubbish account for up to 80% of the world’s marine pollution
Jenny Lovell is a volunteer who organises beach clean ups on behalf of charity the Marine Conservation Society in her home town of Eastbourne.
She said: “You often find it is much worse following a bank holiday weekend. It amazes me that people just get up and walk away, after spending a day enjoying the seaside, only to leave it worse than when they arrived.
“Despite actively travelling to the area to specifically enjoy spending time at the beach, they then leave it filthy. The hypocrisy really does astound me.
“I have actually been known to point out people leaving their stuff behind, and sometimes I get an apologetic smile, and sometimes I get abuse. But it always makes me wonder how these sorts of people have been brought up.
“We have some stall holders on the beach who offer a free cup of coffee for every five bits of litter someone brings with them when leaving. Everyone around here wants to keep Eastbourne beautiful. Everyone is trying to do their bit. It does appear the tide is turning, my only fear is that it will not be quick enough.”
Plastic debris kills around 100,000 marine mammals every year, as well as millions of birds and fish
The Marine Conservation Society, for whom Jenny works, encourage their volunteers to organise regularly community events doing beach clean-ups - working on the notion that many hands make for less work.
The society - which has funding backing from supermarket Waitrose, as well as having received grants from the People’s Lottery in the past - otherwise work solely on generous donations and the dedication of their volunteers.
Liza, a volunteer for MCS, said: “We call them our Beachwatch Organisers, and these people organise events and make them happen. Our beaches would be in a different state all together if it wasn’t for them and our wildlife would be more at risk of entanglement.
But if everyone did their bit, it would make our coastline a much friendlier and healthier place.
“We run surveys at every single clean-up event. Our volunteers will record all of the litter they collect and then they send the information to us.
“The staff at MCS then gather this information, look at the trends, the sources of litter and then we can look at where to focus our campaigns to stop rubbish from getting to the beach in the first place.
“This is very much a problem that needs to be supported and sorted out by communities. Of course, everyone individually should be responsible for their own rubbish, but we find that is not the case, so our workers step in. But if everyone did their bit, it would make our coastline a much friendlier and healthier place.”
The charity says it has around 900 organisers who take responsibility for a beach near them, with additional volunteers then signing up to take part.
But could bigger and better plans be in the pipeline to help these clean-ups?
A recent study by Imperial College London found that the most efficient way to clean up ocean plastics and avoid harming ecosystems is to place plastic collectors near coasts.
One area of open ocean in the North Pacific has an unusually large collection of plastics, so much so, that it has been named as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
It is enclosed by ocean currents that seem to concentrate the plastics into one area – an area which is currently twice the size of the UK.
The idea behind the floating plastic collectors is that they will be positioned in areas at sea where a lot of rubbish builds up, then gather up as much as possible through a series of floating booms, which will be anchored in a deep layer of ocean water, almost 2,000 feet deep, where currents are slower than at the surface.
Floating plastic debris will as a result move faster than the booms themselves, concentrating into a central area where ships would collect the rubbish once a month.
And although it is an idea which has got scientists excited, many say there are other ways of using these booms to benefit the ocean clear up quicker.
As well as these rubbish gathering areas, Dr Erik van Sebille and undergraduate physics student Peter Sherman from Imperial College London suggested in a recent analysis that it would be “just as beneficial, if not more”, to place plastic collectors like those proposed, around the coastline to collect and remove plastics before they make it too far into the ocean.
At least 267 different animal species are known to have suffered entanglement and ingestion of plastic debris.
The company behind the booms, The Ocean Clean Up, was founded in 2013 by Dutchman Boyan Slat. He was 16 when he went diving on holiday in Greece and was shocked to see more plastic bags than fish.
Seven years later he is now head of the company which has charity status and a team of more than 80 engineers, researchers, scientists and modelers working to eradicate plastic from the oceans.
He has raised more than £25 million already and hopes his invention can be deployed worldwide, with big companies sponsoring each boom and able to track how much plastic they are helping to clear up in their own areas.
And something does need to done, and quickly, as recent statistics from Greenpeace stated that it is not just the plastic pollution which is causing a problem to our environment, at least 267 different animal species are known to have suffered entanglement and ingestion of plastic debris.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that plastic debris kills around 100,000 marine mammals every year, as well as millions of birds and fish, while the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution estimate that land-based sources of rubbish account for up to 80% of the world’s marine pollution.