Resource Use

Scotland launches marine litter strategy

The Scottish Government has launched a marine litter strategy in a bid to reduce the amount of coastal waste and prevent it from arising.

The plan, ‘A Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland’, has been released today (19 August) by Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead as part of a move to reduce the amount of waste being littered in, and around, the sea.

It forms part of the Scottish Government’s national litter strategy, ‘Towards a litter-free Scotland’, and brings together measures for education and awareness raising; supporting economic growth; monitoring the scale of the problem; and influencing actions more widely at the UK, EU and international scale.

Marine Strategy details

According to the Scottish Government, the approximate economic cost of the marine litter problem is £16.8 million a year, while the environmental impacts are ‘enormous’.

As such, a strategy has been developed in consultation with the public to reduce the amount of litter entering the marine environment from land; and to ‘seize opportunities and economic growth’ by using waste as a ‘resource’.

Specifically, it seeks to ‘build on the strengths of existing measures, identify proposals that will help overcome weaknesses, and maximise opportunities and minimise threats to addressing the levels of litter present in the coastal and marine environment’.

This will be done through a variety of non-regulatory actions that focus on five ‘strategic directions’:


Improve public and business attitudes and behaviours around marine and coastal litter, in co-ordination with the national litter strategy

Actions to be taken include:

  • reviewing possible gaps in education and awareness raising and working with stakeholders to identify action to address these gaps;
  • boosting education and awareness raising focused on: prevalent items of litter found on beaches; and impacts of litter on marine life, including plastics;
  • promoting the KIMO Fishing for Litter project (which provides fishing boats with large bags to collect marine-sourced litter which is brought to land for responsible disposal):
  • identifying the impacts of incorrect disposal of non-biodegradable waste on the water and waste network; and
  • encouraging producers to change design of products present in the marine environment, such as finding alternatives to plastic in cotton bud sticks and plastic microbeads in personal care products.


Reduce marine- and coastal-based sources of litter, in co-ordination with land sourced litter being reduced by the national litter strategy

Actions to be taken include:

  • workingwith the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Transport Scotland to investigate the potential for better enforcement of regulation of waste;
  • extending existing Port Waste Reception Facilities to include fishing vessels;
  • introducing compulsory discharging of waste in port for all vessels including fishing boats;
  • researching recycling and reuse facilities for fishing nets at ports;
  • investigating the incorporation of environmental responsibilities into the education and training of ship owners, ship operators, crews, port users, fishermen and recreational boat users;
  • producing a plastics industry code of conduct for the ‘safe handling, packaging and transportation, by sea of plastic pellets’;
  • incorporating marine litter reduction into regional marine plans under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010; and
  • encouraging the direct removal of marine litter from the marine environment in the course of normal fishing activity.


Contribute to a low carbon economy by treating 'waste as a resource' and seizing the economic and environmental opportunities associated with the Zero Waste Plan

Actions to be taken include:

  • encouraging marine planning partnerships to treat waste as a resource in regional marine plans;
  • developing guidance on the potential for recycling marine and coastal litter;
  • developing options for delivering ‘an economically viable long-term scheme to establish free fishing net disposal at a network of fishing ports across Scotland’, which will include the infrastructure to recover and recycle the nets and other plastics recovered from fishing operations;
  • considering additional opportunities to incentivise the recycling of marine and coastal litter; and
  • seeking investment for ‘more environmental and clean technologies that facilitate recovery, recycling and environmental monitoring in coastal and maritime industries’.


Improve monitoring at a Scottish scale and develop measures for strategy evaluation

Actions to be taken include:

  • working with local authorities, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Water, and others to develop monitoring measures;
  • further developing agreed baseline for coastal, seabed and water column litter, which can be used for Marine Strategy Framework Directive reporting (including, where necessary, the expansion of existing activity by Marine Conservation Society, Keep Scotland Beautiful and others, as well as developing and standardising methodology in co-ordination with national and EU partners);
  • undertaking research to address key gaps in knowledge, including microplastics in the marine and coastal environment; and
  • using Marine Scotland research vessels to undertake seabed monitoring of marine litter during scientific trawls, and consider additional monitoring opportunities in other marine activities.  


Maintain and strengthen stakeholder co-ordination at the UK, EU and international scales

Actions to be taken include:

  • having Marine Scotland lead national steering group on marine litter that seek to ‘co-ordinate approach and share best practice amongst Scottish Government Directorates, agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations and others’; and
  • developing a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter.

A review is proposed for 2015-2016 to coincide with work on the development of a programme of measures, with a further review to follow in 2018.

‘Providing the tools and input to facilitate change’

Launching the strategy on Portobello Beach in Edinburgh, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland’s marine environment is one of our greatest assets and it is in everyone’s interests to preserve it. Marine litter is a significant problem and a staggering amount of discarded materials – particularly plastics – wash up on our beaches every single day.

“I want this to change. It is dangerous for our marine wildlife, is damaging and costly for our fishing fleet and is an unnecessary blight on our wonderful beaches, which are enjoyed by thousands of visitors from home and abroad. Great work is being done by initiatives like Fishing for Litter and beach clean ups – but we can all do so much more. I hope that everyone sits up and listens to these startling statistics on the marine litter problem and takes responsibility for disposing of litter in the proper way to prevent its negative impact on our seas and coastlines.”

The Director of Zero Waste Scotland, Iain Gulland, added: “There’s a direct link between us dumping litter on land and what ends up clogging up our seas, endangering our wildlife, and damaging our beaches and coastal areas.   This is not acceptable and Zero Waste Scotland, together with partners and communities, is working to tackle thisproblem which all of us have the power to do something about, right now.”

The strategy has already been welcomed by several stakeholders, including the Marine Conservation Society, whose Programme Manager for Scotland, Calum Duncan, said: “The strategy incorporates some MCS recommendations such as extending Port Waste Reception Facilities to include fishing vessels, expansion of the KIMO Fishing for Litter initiative, encouraging alternatives to plastic microbeads in personal care products and highlighting the need to tackle sources of sewage related debris.

“The Scottish marine litter strategy provides a great opportunity to enhance education and awareness, as well as providing the tools and input to facilitate change. Marine litter is a wasted resource, and we can all play a part in reducing it.”

Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Chief Executive Derek Robertson added that the plan was a “significant milestone” in Scotland’s fight against the litter problem, which had “too long…turned a blind eye to [its] litter problems, both inland and in the marine and coastal environment”.

Read the plan, ‘A Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland’.