Materials

Cheap seaside items are creating a #WaveofWaste on our beaches

Cheap bodyboards can be easily found in almost every seaside souvenir shop - and national litter charity Keep Britain Tidy says the boards are just as easily found discarded, on and around the beaches where they’re used.

To raise awareness of this growing problem, the environmental charity have produced a dress using fabric from broken boards found in Cornwall as part of the charity’s #WaveofWaste campaign.

Dr Linda Thomas, designer of the piece, said she “wanted to create something eye catching to highlight the problem”, and the vibrant dress certainly draws attention. Its bright colours and lurid designs are at odds with the natural environment in which it is pictured, a potent symbol for the impact of throwaway culture on our permanent surroundings.

Cheap seaside items are creating a #WaveofWaste on our beaches

Keep Britain Tidy’s BeachCare programme, created to encourage local communities to reduce litter on their coastlines, recovered 560 broken bodyboards from just three beaches in Cornwall this summer.

Dumped bodyboards are a recurring issue in the county: in 2010, BeachCare reported collecting more than 350, and this year’s figure shows the problem is only growing larger. Results from the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean in 2016 revealed that beach litter in the South West rose by 15 per cent from 2015 to 2016, despite a drop of almost four per cent for the UK overall.

Innovative solutions can be found to utilise the collected bodyboards - the 2010 haul became underfloor cushioning for a theatre company - but possibilities like this are limited and, in the long term, unsustainable. Moreover, for every bodyboard abandoned on and around the beach, which can be recovered and reused, there are more which wind up in landfill: BeachCare estimates over 14,000 boards each summer have this ultimate end.

The polystyrene boards, largely manufactured in China and shipped over to Europe where they are often used for one day before disposal, cannot be recycled at local centres and the material, already costly to reprocess, has been refused by recycling companies due to contamination by sand and salt.

Other boards may make it out to sea, where they can drastically affect the marine environment. The polystyrene, broken down into minute particles or microplastics, is easily ingested by animals at every level of the food chain, and has been shown to leach potentially carcinogenic styrene compounds into the water.

Keep Britain Tidy says that steps must be taken to reduce the amount of litter being produced, rather than merely finding new ways to remove it from the oceans and recycle it: this is where #WaveofWaste comes in. The campaign hopes to discourage the purchase of cheap and flimsy bodyboards in favour of hiring or buying a better quality, and longer lasting, alternative.

Raising awareness is the first step towards this goal; as such, the dress will tour the country and, it is hoped, start conversations about the waste produced by a simple summer activity.