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26,000 volunteers storm the beaches for anti-litter drive

 

By Michael Sheils McNamee

If you fancy a walk along the beach this weekend don't be surprised to find yourself picking your way through crisp packets and plastic bottles.

A typical stretch of a Northern Ireland beach no longer than a 100-metre running track will hold on average a staggering 528 bits of litter.

And research released today shows that while 97% of people have found rubbish while visiting the beach, only 15% are ready to own up to dropping litter themselves.

A major drive over the coming week aims to get people involved in cleaning up our beaches - and will see 26,000 volunteers hitting the coastline.

The Coca-Cola Clean Coasts Week is part of Live Here Love Here, an initiative managed by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

Chris Allen, an environmental expert with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said: "We are still at a stage where we are trying to get a handle on how bad the problem is.

"The thing with that is that we've been dumping plastic in the sea for 70 years now, since it has been invented.

"There are hundreds of thousands of tonnes, even if we were to stop dropping it tonight there would still be hundreds of thousands of tonnes."

Despite this, Mr Allen says initiatives like the Coca-Cola Clean Coasts Week are able to make a big difference.

"This helps on a few different fronts," he added.

"For one thing, people are going to be better informed about the need to reduce littering, so there is a direct effect that during this time people are going to drop less litter.

"People are then going to see the benefit of dropping less litter in the place they enjoy, and the effect you see there will be hopefully quite dramatic.

"There are also scientific benefits linked to the effect that dropping litter has on the beach - but it can start to get quite complicated."

The event has been running for 10 years and is aimed at raising awareness.

Last year volunteers on both sides of the border lifted more than 10 tonnes of marine litter.

Speaking at the launch, Ian Humphreys from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful praised those taking part.

"We hope the 2017 campaign will be the most successful yet and I would like to take the opportunity to thank our volunteers who make a significant impact, working towards the important goal of protecting our marine environment," he said.

The campaign aims to tackle misconceptions about littering.

Research shows just three in 10 people consider fruit to be litter because it is biodegradable.

According to Mr Allen, this is something that the public needs to be careful about.

"Obviously there is a real distinction between an apple core and a plastic bottle, but for the purposes of legislation there isn't. Legally speaking, it's the same act," he said.

Speaking at the launch of Clean Coasts Week, musician and TV presenter Kian Egan said: "Ireland has some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and we really don't realise how lucky we are.

"As a keen surfer, I see first-hand the benefits of looking after our coasts, and unfortunately also the damage that can be done by littering.

"I'm encouraging everyone to take stock of their own contribution to keeping our beaches clean, and I also want to celebrate the volunteers up and down this island who give a huge amount of their time and energy to protect our coast."

Information about different events taking place can be found at www.liveherelovehere.org

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