Tuesday, May 03, 2011

'Don't flush it, bin it' call to help keep beaches clear of debris

DANGEROUS: Bathroom-related rubbish found on beaches can include cotton bud sticks, razor blades and even syringes
THROWAWAY attitudes can lead to South Devon's beaches being polluted with household waste.

The British public are putting far more down their toilets than they should be and the result is some beaches have unsavoury items like cotton buds, condoms, sanitary towels and tampon applicators, says the Marine Conservation Society in publishing a beachwatch survey.

In South Devon eight volunteers surveyed 32 metres of beach at Churston Cove and 17 covered 1,800 metres of Dawlish Warren national nature reserve.

Beachwatch officer Lauren Davis says the survey nationally reveals a shocking picture of what people do in the privacy of their own bathroom.

She said: "But sewerage networks and waste water treatment works are not specifically designed to remove these sorts of items and unfortunately more and more are ending up in our rivers and then on our beaches."

The conservation charity's call for items to be binned rather than flushed is backed by Torbay Council and South West Water.

A Torbay Council spokesman said: "We support any efforts to encourage people not to flush items down the toilet that can cause problems in sewerage networks and water treatment works.

"We go to great lengths to ensure that the Bay's beaches are clean and tidy, with our beach teams working hard to keep them looking their best.

"Torbay has some of the cleanest bathing waters in the country and is currently top of the league table, alongside Isle of Wight, with a record 14 Blue Flag and Quality Coast Awards which recognise beaches that are clean, attractive and well managed."

The council says all the main beaches are cleaned manually every day throughout the summer bathing season, and a rota of mechanical cleaning is gradually increased as the season progresses.

"The smaller beaches are regularly checked and cleaned as required. Not all the smaller beaches are the responsibility of Torbay council.

"It is now very rare that any bathroom-related debris is found on our beaches."

The situation greatly improved when South West Water modernised the sewerage system, which was already screened to remove unsavoury items.

South West Water said: "We spend around £1 million a year clearing blockages caused by people flushing everything from cotton buds and nappies to bandages, plasters, razor blades, needles and syringes.

"The sewerage network is not designed to cope with these items, and flushing them can cause flooding and blockages."

Although modern sewerage systems like Brokenbury in Torbay screen out these items they can still end up on beaches if a house has a wrong connection to a surface water drain.

It says combined sewer overflows which operate in heavy rain to protect property from sewage flooding, also discharge into the sea or watercourses but also have screens which would remove the majority of these items.

The spokesman said: "Plastic items, such as cotton bud sticks, take a long time to break down in the environment unless they are physically removed."

Nationally the beachwatch survey shows that last year average litter levels increased by six per cent, with a rise of more than 40 per cent in sewage related debris.

Only two regions – Northern Ireland and the North West – saw a decrease in the amount of bathroom waste found on beaches, while the largest increase was in the North East, with a 230 per cent increase followed by Wales with a 110 per cent rise.

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