Number of plastic bags found on Northern Ireland beaches plunges after 5p levy
THE number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches has dropped by almost half in just one year, according to conservationists.
Beaches in Northern Ireland and England saw the biggest drop in the number of plastic bags found during the September clean-up - over half compared with 2015.
The Marine Conservation Society said the introduction of a 5p levy on single use plastic bags over the last five years was instrumental in the drop.
Figures from the charity's annual Great British Beach Clean report show there were on average 11 plastic bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned in 2015, compared to just under seven this year - a decrease of almost 40 per cent and the lowest number in the last decade.
Figures also show there has been a drop of almost four per cent in the amount of litter found on UK beaches between 2015 and 2016, with 6,000 volunteers collecting 268,384 items.
However, figures show beaches in Northern Ireland had the highest litter density across the UK for the second year in a row, with a nine per cent increase in the amount of beach litter.
A total of 3,854 litter items were collected from four surveyed beaches with an average of 895 litter items per 100 metres recorded compared to 820 in 2015.
The charity said there was also a decrease in both volunteer numbers and beaches surveyed and it "would still like to see this change so we can start to build up a clearer picture of litter on Northern Ireland’s beaches".
The Marine Conservation Society began calling for action on single use carrier bags in shops back in 2008 and was instrumental in getting a levy introduced in the UK, with Northern Ireland introducing the charge in 2013.
Lauren Eyles from the charity said: "In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of 10 single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned.
"This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we've seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations.
"It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment.
"Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had."