Group clears 1,300kg of waste from beach in 2023

Plastic on Exmouth Beach, in Devon
Image caption,Volunteers from Plastic Free Exmouth said about half of what they found on the beach had washed ashore

Volunteers cleared more than 1,300kg (2,870lbs) of waste from Exmouth Beach in Devon in 2023, in what organisers have described as a record.

Volunteers from Plastic Free Exmouth (PFE) – who work in collaboration with Surfers Against Sewage – have been out each week, clearing plastic and other types of waste which have either been left on the beach or washed ashore.

Group leader Lucy Oakes-Ash said about half of what volunteers cleared had been left on the beach by people.

She said smoking and vaping paraphernalia were among the most frequently-found items.

Volunteers cleaning on Exmouth Beach, in Devon
Image caption,Volunteers spend about an hour a week cleaning the beach

Mrs Oakes-Ash said the weekly beach clean started in 2021, when more people started using the beach for socialising under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

She said: “People started to use the beach as a social venue, which was really lovely. But, unfortunately, on the back of that, Exmouth got a bit of bad press because the beach was used and left in some horrendous states.”

Mrs Oakes-Ash said the volunteers doing the weekly beach cleans were “amazing”.

She said: “These are people who give up on average an hour of their time a week to clean the beach; we get anywhere between 15 and 40 people, coming from both ends of the beach.”

Plastic on Exmouth Beach, in Devon
Image caption,Tiny pieces of plastic and polystyrene are often washed ashore at Exmouth

In 2022, PFE said volunteers collected 1,000kg (2,200lbs) of waste.

Mrs Oakes-Ash said: “Single-use vapes, who invented those? They’ve made the plastic problem even worse.”

Polystyrene, clothing, and pieces of sponge were also frequently found on the beach, she said.

Mrs Oakes-Ash said there were two categories of waste found: items which had washed ashore and items which had been left behind.

“The stuff that’s left on the beach are things like bottles, tin cans, clothing, smoking paraphernalia, crisp packets, wrappers – that sort of thing.

“The stuff that gets washed up is fishing nets, fishing wire, bit pieces of stuff that’s come off of cargo ships.

“But probably for us, the most upsetting and the most frustrating is the tiny pieces of plastic, the microplastics,┬áthe nurdles.”

Volunteer beach cleaners at Exmouth Beach, in Devon
Image caption,The group of volunteers collected a record amount of waste from the beach in 2023

Mrs Oakes-Ash said she was “incredibly proud” to live in Exmouth.

She said: “I absolutely love that we live somewhere where people come on holiday – I think that is such a privilege.

“So, my message to people is if you’ve taken it to the beach, take it away from the beach.

“Who do you think the magic fairy is, the magic person that’s going to come down and clear up after your mess?

“Some of it is intentional – and that’s separate – but some of it is non-intentional; just have a little look around before you leave.”

Mrs Oakes-Ash said her message to people who left waste behind intentionally was: “We have one planet, there is no second chance here.

“We have one planet to look after and every part of what we eat, what we do, comes from the planet – and therefore we need to look after that for it to look after us.”

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