Planning a beach clean?

The success of BBC’s Blue Planet 2 sparked a renewed interest in beach cleaning and a few people have got in touch to ask about beach cleaning – particularly on the Isle of Wight.

This page provides some pointers if you want to organise your own event – but you don’t need to take part in an organised clean to make a difference. Do get in the habit of picking up a few bits of rubbish whenever you are down on the beach – there are usually plenty of public bins that will take a few bits of litter.

You can get in touch with us if you want more help organising a specific event or want to feed back on this page so that we can improve it.

What is your goal?

That seems obvious – clean the beach, right? It can feel good to go on a beach and remove some obvious bits of rubbish but sometimes it is the smaller bits of rubbish that we need to worry about more. These have already broken down and in the case of plastics are already on their way to becoming microplastics and ending up in the food chain. They are less likely to be picked up by casual beach cleaners.

You might want to think about ways of making your event more interesting – a small prize or recognition for the person finding the smallest piece of plastic for example. Or you might want to focus on nurdles. Find out more about the problem of nurdles and the Great Nurdle Hunt. Can you link the beach clean into some citizen science work? What happens to these plastics when they end up in the food chain?

Is anyone else cleaning the beach?

It is worth asking if there is a local group in your area that is already running a local beach clean. Is there already a contractor cleaning the beach and are you doing their work for them? Taking part in a beach clean that is already planned is a great way of getting first hand experience before running one yourself. Also the Marine Conservation Society have been organising beach clean surveys for many years – and their data is used to influence government policy. 

Where can I clean the beach?

If you have a beach in mind you will need to get the land-owner’s permission to clean it. Depending on where your beach is the land could be owned by the Crown Estate, the local council, the National Trust or some completely different organisation. Start with your local parish or town council and they will probably know who owns the beach. If this is your first beach clean make it somewhere that is easy to get to and where you are unlikely to get cut off by tides or hit by falling rocks etc.

What are the risks?

Absolutely essential before your event is to carry out a full and through risk assessment. If you run a beach clean on behalf of an existing organisation follow their risk assessment procedures they will also insure you for the event. Otherwise you should check whether your own organisation’s insurance will cover you for a beach clean. You can also ask Planet Aware to organise a beach clean for you.

When should I run my beach clean?

Depending on your group size and whether you are involving children then a beach clean might last anything from half an hour to three hours, depending on where you are cleaning, how big an area you are cleaning and where you have to get the rubbish back to. Check the tides and make sure that you start your beach clean on a falling tide – ideally a minimum of two hours before low tide. Keep an eye on the tide when it turns. And obviously make sure that you have enough light when cleaning the beach in the winter.

Before your beach clean

Disposing of any rubbish you collect is your responsibility. You might be cleaning the beach on someone’s behalf but they will not thank you for leaving piles of bin bags by the side of the beach for someone else to collect. This will count as fly tipping. You absolutely need to organise the pick up yourself – arrange for the bagged up rubbish to be picked up from a pre-agreed location about half an hour or so after your beach clean ends. If you can wait to ensure that it is collected even better. In some cases you might be able to get a local waste management company to sponsor a certain number of beach cleans a year – or your local council may support waste management for beach cleaning groups.

If you are organising a beach clean for your own organisation then you don’t need to publicise it, except internally. Otherwise use the usual channels – Facebook, local publications if there is time and your own networks.

Ask your beach cleaners to dress appropriately for the weather, bring a refillable bottle of water and gloves and litter pickers if they have them – and any spare pre-loved bags or buckets for collecting rubbish they can use to save on using new ones. Handing out large quantities of bin bags for everyone to collect a small amount of rubbish in them is not helping reduce our resource use.  You will need gloves, litter pickers and bin bags. See if you can borrow gloves and pickers. If you are running a one off event please do avoid buying new items – or make sure that they are donated to a local group that can make good use of them afterwards.  A first aid kit and a box for sharps are also important items.

Plan for the worst. Decide under what circumstances you might cancel your event and be clear how you will communicate this. High winds, snow, lashing rain make it difficult and in many cases unsafe to do a beach clean. This will be included in your risk assessment. If you are cleaning in a remote location make sure that you have planned for what to do if there is an accident or something goes wrong.

On the day

Decide whether you need a register and if you do make sure that someone looks after the register and signs people in and out. Ensure that you keep this information safe and for no longer than is necessary in line with data protection legislation. If you have children attending get adults to sign in their group and take responsibility for getting them all back and signing them out. Give a short safety talk before handing out any pickers etc which is based on your risk assessment. Make sure people are clear that they need to take responsibility for keeping themselves safe. Be clear about where people should be working and what they should and should not pick up.

Be absolutely clear what time people should be back. You will need a couple of people to stay back with any spare kit, to greet any late arrivals and to check people out of the event if they go home early. If you take pictures make sure that you get written consent if you want to use these and make. This could be part of your register.

Make the connection between the rubbish on the beach and our individual actions. This could include avoiding single use plastics, carrying a portable ash tray rather than flicking butts on the ground – or simply buying, using and throwing away less stuff.

After your event

Well done! Hopefully, you and your beach cleaning crew will have had a good day – and feel good about your beach cleaning success. Keep it going by picking up a few bits of rubbish whenever you are down on the beach. And do the same if you see litter in towns. We think of them as separate problems but most of the litter in the sea comes from the land.