Emma Lewell-Buck MP: We must do more to protect our coastline

Volunteers and members of the Rossall Beach Residents and Community Group take part in a beach clean
Volunteers and members of the Rossall Beach Residents and Community Group take part in a beach clean

One of the jewels in South Shields’ crown is its stunning coastline. From the award winning stretches of golden sands backed with dunes at Sandhaven and Littlehaven Beaches to the dramatic rocky coves of Marsden Bay and The Leas.

Our waters are also a safe habitat for some of our best loved marine life. Sightings of dolphins, seals and sharks have been recorded in and around our coastline here in South Shields. During the summer months our beaches are an important and welcome attraction for tourists and day trippers from all over the UK. These are areas of outstanding natural beauty and whether the sun is shining or the wind is howling the coast here seems to take on a life and beauty of its own that is unique to Shields.

I am pleased that the council do a good job of keeping our beaches clean. However, this isn’t something we should be leaving others to do. Earlier this month volunteers joined The Marine Conservation Society on Sandhaven Beach, as part of the UK’s biggest beach clean-up. Whilst larger items of rubbish are picked up by specialist equipment used by the council, many smaller items can only be picked by hand. By far it was small items of plastic that made up the majority of debris found abandoned and washed up during the beach clean-up. Many of the plastic items found were commonly from cotton buds, straws and plastic bottles.

Plastic is cheap and incredibly versatile with properties that make it ideal for many applications. Manufacturers produce around 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. Shockingly, over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Unsurprisingly, these qualities have also resulted in plastic becoming an environmental issue. As a result we have developed a “disposable” lifestyle and estimates are that around 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away. Our ‘throw-away’ consumer culture means that a growing number of unwanted plastic items are discarded into our seas and onto our beaches every year, posing a threat to ourselves and our wildlife. Hundreds of thousands of marine creatures a year die due to plastic in our seas.

Since the carrier bag deposit scheme was introduced the number of bags used has gone down by more than 80 percent in England. We need to build on this success. Here in the UK 35 million plastic bottles are used per day. A Labour Government believe that guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes must be set, so we can work with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste.

It is clear more needs to be done to reduce our waste, we can all do our bit to help protect our environment and help to keep the beaches of Shields clean. So please think about what you are throwing away, ask yourself could I refill this plastic bottle or is it recyclable and always dispose your plastic waste correctly.