Talking rubbish at Formby

Formby, Liverpool

Ranger Justin Matthews talks about the huge rubbish problem that Formby faces and why it is now more important than ever to help us tackle this issue so that places like Formby can remain special forever.

Rubbish is an emotional issue. We’ve all seen the catastrophic harm that plastic has in our oceans, and none of us like to see litter on our streets, countryside or beaches. However, the Marine Conservation Society’s annual survey shows that waste on beaches has increased by 90 per cent since 1994. In September 2018 volunteers picked up an average of 600 items of litter for every 100 metres. In July 2019 the Formby and Freshfield Beach Litter Angels volunteer group collected over 200kg of non-recyclable waste on our beach. That's an immense amount of rubbish, and the problem is only getting worse.

In 2020 we saw an unprecedented number of visitors seeking solace due to the pandemic. Sadly piles of litter from the many picnics and fun days out were simply left behind. Thanks to the amazing support of the local community, litter picking during their daily exercise, we were able to clear huge amounts before it was swept away by the tide. 

Of course, we all generate rubbish. At home we can easily sort our waste for it be collected by the local council, but it is more difficult when we go out for a day at the beach or in the countryside. In the UK, we have come to expect waste bins to be provided at convenient places and for someone to empty them regularly. In the USA, surveys at Disneyland showed that, on average, people would throw rubbish on the ground after just eight metres. They then used that as a measure for positioning their bins.

Clearing litter off Formby beach
Clearing litter off Formby beach
Clearing litter off Formby beach

Clearly, we can't possibly place bins every eight metres on Formby beach. In fact, you won’t see any bins at all on our beach. There are several very good reasons for this, the main one being that Formby has one of the largest tidal ranges in the UK (10m) with tides regularly reaching the dune slopes, so any rubbish would be washed away and would then pollute the sea.  

Another critical reason is because of our dune landscape. Our coastal dunes are mobile – they blow around – and that is what creates the specific habitat for our rare plants and animals. This means it is not easy to get vehicles onto the beach to collect rubbish. Regular driving over the dunes also damages the protected habitat, as well as acts as a potential hazard to visitors and dogs.

So, I’m sure it is clear why we really need visitors to take any rubbish away from the beach.  We provide 5 x 1,100 litre bins in each of the car parks which are emptied 3 times per week.  

But is this the real answer? In our consumer society, we have come to expect waste bins in convenient places so that we don’t have to carry rubbish. The growth in the use of plastic packaging over the years means we now have more rubbish than ever. 

Litter at Formby beach
Litter at Formby beach
Litter at Formby beach

Surely this can’t be the answer? As we are becoming more aware of the need to look after our environment, reduce the waste we produce and recycle where we can, we want our visitors to join us in committing to take our rubbish home for recycling. It means a real culture change in our society, going from an expectation that others will deal with our waste to taking responsibility for our own rubbish. 

We are not alone. There is a growing band of people who are taking positive action this way. In the USA, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. You can read about its principles by clicking here. The UK Countryside code succinctly encapsulates these principles as: respect others; protect the environment; and enjoy the outdoors.

It will take a long time to change attitudes, but just imagine the impact this could have on wildlife, the environment and our enjoyment of pristine landscapes such as Formby.

Our message to beach-goers is 'leave nothing behind but your footprints'. And if you do take plastic on to the beach, don't leave it there. Please take it home and dispose of it responsibly.