New research for Surfers Against Sewage has identified the brands whose items are most commonly littered on UK beaches.

Volunteers from the Cornwall-based campaign group collected 49,413 items in their 2019 Big Spring Beach Clean between the 6th and 14th of April. Our team carried out analysis of the beach litter data collected, linking specific brands to their parent companies and producing summary statistics for the 229 beach cleans.

20,045 branded items were collected, linked to 799 brands. 10 companies alone account for over half of the branded items found, with the 50 parent companies associated with the most items accounting for 92% of the branded litter found on beaches.

Our research found that while the 50 companies associated with the most beach litter are predominantly food and beverage manufacturers, a number of tobacco companies and companies with a wider brand portfolio – such as Unilever – also fall within the top 50.

Dr Chiarina Darrah, who led the analysis, said:

The purpose of this analysis was to highlight the small number of brands and companies that are responsible for the greatest shares of items found on UK beaches. This contributes to a strong case for a central role for manufacturers in tackling packaging pollution; the opportunity for them to bring about positive change is huge and they should take advantage of that.”

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said:

“Producers must offer full transparency and disclosure on the amount and type of packaging they use in order that new extended producer regulation can be truly effective. Our environment is in peril and plastic pollution is a clear indicator that business as usual just won’t do.

“This is not a littering issue – business needs to provide radical and responsible new systems that drastically reduce their impact on our oceans, forests and nature at large.

“People and planet need these companies to change how they do business. At the moment, the cost of this waste is left in the hands of local councils, tax payers and, finally, the environment.”

Photo courtesy of Vaidehi Shah, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0.