Skip to main content

Abundance, Composition and Trends of Beach Litter

Beach litter levels remain high with plastic items predominating. Over the last six years, significant decreases in litter and plastic abundance have been observed at the OSPAR Maritime Area scale and in four OSPAR Regions. To substantially reduce marine litter, it is necessary to continue current efforts and take additional measures.

Background

The reduction of marine litter pollution is one of the great environmental challenges facing society today. Under its North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy (NEAES) 2010 - 2020, OSPAR had the strategic objective “to substantially reduce marine litter in the OSPAR Maritime Area to a level where properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment”.

One of the indicators currently used at OSPAR level to assess marine litter pollution is the “Abundance, composition and trends of marine litter washed ashore and/or deposited on coastlines, including analysis of its spatial distribution and, where possible, sources”, referred to as “beach litter”. The indicator, also used in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), reflects spatial differences and temporal changes in abundance, composition and sources of marine litter in the coastal environment and is used as a proxy for litter pollution in the OSPAR marine environment.

The present assessment describes beach litter quality status and trends in the OSPAR Area. To provide a snapshot of the current situation, litter abundance and composition were assessed from 2018 to 2020 and current trends over a six year period, from 2015 to 2020. All parameters were calculated using median-based robust calculation methods which are representing the most typical pollution situation without being influenced by extreme values1.

Beach Litter in Norway © Bo Eide

Beach Litter in Norway © Bo Eide

To complement the present report, factsheets were elaborated to provide key results at both OSPAR Area and OSPAR Region scales. Specific factsheets were also prepared for MSFD-country sub regions to support European Union (EU) Member States in their MSFD reporting.

Beach litter is defined by OSPAR as any persistent, manufactured or processed, solid material discarded, disposed of, from inland or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment, and encountered on beaches. A part of this litter originates from the sea, through deliberate or accidental losses from vessels (including cargos and waste), and is transported to, and deposited on the coast from the sea by winds, waves and water currents. Another part is directly deposited on the coast - e.g. by beach users - or is the result of fly-tipping. Litter is also deposited further inland on riverbanks, directly into rivers, in urban areas and in the countryside and is subsequently transported by rivers, rain and wind into the marine environment and onto beaches. In addition, sewage infrastructures discharge litter items directly or indirectly, via rivers and sewage outlets into the sea and these items can be washed ashore.

The present report aims at assessing in OSPAR Maritime Area and Regions: (i) marine beach litter quality status, (ii) current beach litter trends and (iii) extent to which OSPAR objectives have been achieved.

To do so, it provides an assessment of the abundance, composition, distribution and trends of marine litter washed ashore and / or deposited on coastlines of the OSPAR Area. The total litter abundance, based on median values (hereafter refered to as medians1), reflects the magnitude of the pollution in adjacent waters and coastal areas. Composition shows how common the different litter types (e.g. string and cords, cotton bud sticks, caps and lids, cigarette filters) or litter material categories (e.g. plastic, wood) are. Composition is assessed using medians, and if appropriate percentages, of individual litter types or litter categories. The distribution highlights regional specificities that can relate to regional differences in sources, activities, human habits and transport mechanisms (through ocean current, tides, wind, buoyancy of items, etc.). Trends in the abundance of total litter, individual litter types or litter categories (e.g. plastics, single-use plastics, maritime related items) reflect changes in the level of pollution.

The report also provides information on the  coverage of both the OSPAR Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (ML RAP) 2014 - 2020 and European Directive 2019/904, also known as the Single-use plastics Directive (SUP), by assessing percentages of litter directly targeted, or not, by these two measures.

It also assesses the adequacy of the OSPAR beach litter survey list by evaluating percentages of litter which are identified by the list, non-identified, and those which are non-identifiable because they are too fragmented.

The present assessment relies on survey sites distributed in the five OSPAR Regions, as presented in Figure a. Only sites with a sufficient number of surveys and / or long enough time series are included (Table a). For the beach litter status assessment from 2018 to 2020, 1 137 surveys collected on 114 survey sites are considered. For the trends assessment from 2015 to 2020, 1 693 surveys collected on 83 sites are considered. These data represent the most extensive set of fit-for-purpose beach litter monitoring data in the North-East Atlantic.

Figure a: Locations of the 114 OSPAR survey sites considered in the assessment. Available via: https://odims.ospar.org/en/maps/?layers=ospar_beach_litter_survey_sites_2022_06_001,ospar_inner_boundary_2016_01_002,ospar_outer_boundary_2016_01_001

 

Table a: OSPAR beach litter survey sites considered in the assessment and associated data availability. Purple cells indicate years and surveys which are not used in the assessment and / or highlight when a survey site is not included in status or trend analyses. 

Survey site reference number

OSPAR Region

Country

Survey site name

Number of surveys available

Inclusion in status assessment (Yes/No)

Inclusion in trends assessment (Yes/No)

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Total number of surveys considered

DE001

Greater North Sea

Germany

Sylt (island)

4

3

4

4

4

4

23

Yes

Yes

DE002

Greater North Sea

Germany

Scharhörn (island)

3

3

3

3

3

2

17

Yes

Yes

DE003

Greater North Sea

Germany

Minsener Oog (island)

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

DE005

Greater North Sea

Germany

Juist

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

DE006

Greater North Sea

Germany

Sylt Hörnum North

 0

 0

 0

4

4

4

12

Yes

No

DE007

Greater North Sea

Germany

Mellum West

0

0

3

4

4

4

12

Yes

No

DE008

Greater North Sea

Germany

Juist Wilhelmshöhe

 0

 0

3

4

4

4

12

Yes

No

DK001

Greater North Sea

Denmark

MSFD Nymindegab Strand

3

3

3

3

3

3

18

Yes

Yes

DK004

Greater North Sea

Denmark

MSFD Skagen Skagen Strand

3

3

3

3

3

3

18

Yes

Yes

DK006

Greater North Sea

Denmark

MSFD Limfjorden

 0

 0

 0

2

3

3

8

Yes

No

DK007

Greater North Sea

Denmark

Risoe-Roskilde

3

4

4

4

4

4

23

Yes

Yes

ES001

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

A Lanzada

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES002

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Baldaio

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES003

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Valdevaqueros beach

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES004

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

O Rostro

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES005

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

La Vega

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES007

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Agiti

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES008

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Menacoz

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES010

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Covas

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES011

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Castilla

4

4

4

3

4

3

22

Yes

Yes

ES012

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Castilnovo

4

4

4

3

3

3

21

Yes

Yes

ES013

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Oyambre

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

ES014

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Spain

Rodas

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

FR004

Greater North Sea

France

Les Basses Falaises

 0

 0

 0

 0

4

3

7

Yes

No

FR015

Greater North Sea

France

Le Mont St Frieux

 0

2

4

4

4

3

17

Yes

Yes

FR016

Greater North Sea

France

Les Boucaniers

 0

3

4

2

4

3

16

Yes

Yes

FR021

Greater North Sea

France

Les Dunes

 0

1

4

4

4

3

16

Yes

Yes

FR022

Greater North Sea

France

L'Hôpital

 0

 0

3

4

4

3

11

Yes

No

FR006

Celtic Seas

France

Kourrijou

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

FR007

Celtic Seas

France

Koubou

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

FR008

Celtic Seas

France

Kerizella

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

FR011

Celtic Seas

France

Larmor

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

FR012

Celtic Seas

France

Trielen

4

4

4

4

3

3

22

Yes

Yes

FR019

Celtic Seas

France

La Grandville

 0

2

4

4

4

3

17

Yes

Yes

FR020

Celtic Seas

France

La Grève des Courses

 0

2

4

4

4

3

17

Yes

Yes

FR027

Celtic Seas

France

Le Cosmeur

 0

 0

 0

 0

3

3

6

Yes

No

FR002

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Le Stang

 0

 0

 0

4

3

7

Yes

No

FR017

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

La Barre

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

FR023

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Donnant

 0

 0

 0

3

4

3

10

Yes

No

FR031

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Pen Loc'h

 0

 0

 0

 0

3

3

6

Yes

No

FR032

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Boëd

 0

 0

 0

 0

3

4

7

Yes

No

FR033

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

La Marche aux Bœufs

 0

 0

 0

 0

3

3

6

Yes

No

FR035

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Les Selliers

 0

 0

 0

3

4

3

10

Yes

No

FR038

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

La Cornerie

 0

1

 0

3

4

3

10

Yes

No

FR039

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Les Trois Pierres

 0

 0

 0

4

4

3

11

Yes

No

FR040

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

La Baie de Gatseau

 0

 0

 0

3

4

3

10

Yes

No

FR042

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Le Grand Crohot Sud

 0

 0

 0

2

4

3

9

Yes

No

FR043

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

La Pointe du Teich

 0

 0

 0

2

4

3

9

Yes

No

FR044

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Le Banc d'Arguin

 0

 0

 0

3

4

3

10

Yes

No

FR045

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

France

Le Wharf

 0

 0

 0

3

4

2

9

Yes

No

IR001

Celtic Seas

Ireland

Long Strand

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

IR002

Celtic Seas

Ireland

Silver Strand

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

IR003

Celtic Seas

Ireland

Carnesore

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

IR004

Celtic Seas

Ireland

Clogherhead - South

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

IS002

Arctic Waters

Iceland

Budavik

 0

2

3

3

3

2

13

Yes

Yes

IS003

Arctic Waters

Iceland

Bakkavik

 0

2

4

4

3

3

16

Yes

Yes

IS007

Arctic Waters

Iceland

Vikur

 0

 0

 0

2

3

2

7

Yes

No

NL001

Greater North Sea

Netherlands

Bergen

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

NL002

Greater North Sea

Netherlands

Noordwijk

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

NL003

Greater North Sea

Netherlands

Veere

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

NL004

Greater North Sea

Netherlands

Terschelling

4

4

4

4

3

4

23

Yes

Yes

NO005

Greater North Sea

Norway

Kviljo

2

2

2

2

2

2

12

Yes

Yes

PT001

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Praia da Barra

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT004

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Ilha de Faro

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT005

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Batata

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT007

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Cabedelo

4

4

4

4

4

4

24

Yes

Yes

PT008

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Osso da Baleia

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT009

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Amoeiras

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT010

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Fonte da Telha

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT011

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Monte Velho

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT012

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Barranha

4

4

4

4

4

3

23

Yes

Yes

PT014

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Paredes de Vitória

 0

 0

3

4

4

3

11

Yes

No

PT015

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Furadouro Sul

 0

 0

 0

4

4

2

10

Yes

No

PT016

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Aberta-Pedrogão

 0

 0

 0

4

4

3

11

Yes

No

PT017

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

Baleal Leste

 0

 0

1

4

4

3

11

Yes

No

PT019

Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

Portugal

São Félix da Marinha

 0

 0

 0

1

4

3

8

Yes

No

PT018

Wider Atlantic

Portugal

Areia - Corvo - Azores

 0

4

4

4

4

3

19

Yes

Yes

PT020

Wider Atlantic

Portugal

Almoxarife - Faial - Azores

0

4

4

4

4

2

18

Yes

Yes

PT021

Wider Atlantic

Portugal

Praia do Norte - Faial - Azores

 0

4

4

4

4

2

18

Yes

Yes

PT022

Wider Atlantic

Portugal

Praia da Maia - São Miguel - Azores

 0

4

4

3

4

2

17

Yes

Yes

PT023

Wider Atlantic

Portugal

Pedreira - São Miguel - Azores

 0

4

3

2

2

2

13

Yes

Yes

PT024

Wider Atlantic

Portugal

São Lourenço - Santa Maria - Azores

 0

4

4

3

4

3

18

Yes

Yes

SE004

Greater North Sea

Sweden

Haby

3

3

3

3

3

3

18

Yes

Yes

SE005

Greater North Sea

Sweden

Edsvik

2

3

3

3

3

3

17

Yes

Yes

SE006

Greater North Sea

Sweden

Saltö

2

3

3

3

3

3

17

Yes

Yes

SE007

Greater North Sea

Sweden

Grönevik

3

2

3

3

3

3

17

Yes

Yes

SE008

Greater North Sea

Sweden

Edshultshall

3

3

3

3

3

3

18

Yes

Yes

SE009

Greater North Sea

Sweden

Gröderhamn

3

3

3

3

3

3

18

Yes

Yes

UK011

Greater North Sea

United Kingdom

Cramond Beach

4

4

4

4

4

2

22

Yes

Yes

UK043

Greater North Sea

United Kingdom

Jubilee Beach

5

7

4

4

3

2

25

Yes

Yes

UK047

Greater North Sea

United Kingdom

Kinghorn Harbour

3

4

4

4

3

1

19

Yes

Yes

UK048

Greater North Sea

United Kingdom

Formby (Freshfields)

1

3

5

3

3

1

16

Yes

Yes

UK049

Greater North Sea

United Kingdom

Robin Hood's Bay

1

4

4

4

4

1

18

Yes

Yes

UK050

Greater North Sea

United Kingdom

Saltburn

2

4

4

4

3

2

19

Yes

Yes

UK002

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Tan-y-Bwlch Beach

4

4

4

4

3

3

22

Yes

Yes

UK020

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Sand Bay

4

4

4

6

4

2

24

Yes

Yes

UK021

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Langland Bay

3

4

3

4

4

2

20

Yes

Yes

UK025

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Ardglass

 0

4

4

4

4

3

19

Yes

Yes

UK026

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Ballyhornan

 0

4

4

4

4

3

19

Yes

Yes

UK028

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Ballywalter

 0

4

4

4

4

3

19

Yes

Yes

UK031

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Hazelbank

 0

2

 0

 0

3

3

6

Yes

No

UK032

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Kilkeel North

1

4

4

4

4

3

20

Yes

Yes

UK033

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Portavogie

 0

4

4

4

4

3

19

Yes

Yes

UK034

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Rathlin

 0

4

4

4

4

1

17

Yes

Yes

UK035

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Rostrevor

 0

4

4

4

4

2

18

Yes

Yes

UK036

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Runkerry

 0

4

4

3

4

2

17

Yes

Yes

UK037

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Tyrella

 0

4

4

4

4

2

18

Yes

Yes

UK038

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

White Park Bay

 0

4

4

4

4

2

18

Yes

Yes

UK039

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Tal-y-Foel

1

3

3

5

2

1

15

Yes

Yes

UK045

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Lunderston Bay

1

3

4

3

5

2

18

Yes

Yes

IM001

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Castletown

 0

 0

5

4

4

 0

8

Yes

No

IM002

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Douglas

 0

 0

5

4

4

 1

9

Yes

No

IM003

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Kirk Michael

 0

 0

4

4

4

 0

8

Yes

No

IM004

Celtic Seas

United Kingdom

Ramsey

 0

 0

4

3

4

 1

8

Yes

No

The assessment follows OSPAR’s beach litter monitoring and assessment methodology, which is described in OSPAR’s Coordinated Environmental Monitoring Programme (CEMP) guidelines on marine monitoring and assessment of beach litter (OSPAR Agreement 2020-02). This methodology advises surveying four times a year fixed 100 m beach sections, on which all beach litter items (> 5 mm) visible on the sand surface, are collected, identified and counted using the OSPAR survey list (Figure b). It is important to note that selection of survey sites is not made randomly and results can only be regarded as representative for the group of beaches monitored.

The assessment of beach litter pollution is based on time series of abundance of individual litter types, litter categories and total count of litter items recorded on OSPAR beach litter survey sites. Non-identifiable meso-plastic fragments (5 mm to 2,5 cm) are not included in the assessment because they are monitored with less accuracy, due to their small size and the occurrence of very high numbers on some beaches (Hanke et al., 2019). Only identifiable litter types and macro-litter fragments (> 2,5 cm) are considered in the present assessment.

Figure b: Example of litter collected during an OSPAR beach litter survey (beach “Le Stang”, France, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Region, 09/01/2020, photo by Cedre).

Figure b: Example of litter collected during an OSPAR beach litter survey (beach “Le Stang”, France, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Region, 09/01/2020, photo by Cedre).

It is important to appreciate the dynamics of beached litter to understand what assessments of beach litter data can tell us. In between any two beach litter surveys, litter items that have been washed ashore by tides or deposited directly on to the beach can be buried, washed or blown away again by subsequent tides and winds. Also during strong wave action buried litter items can resurface (Tudor and Williams, 2004) and litter can be blown onto a site from adjacent land or streets. Therefore, the number of litter items recorded during one survey generally constitutes a minimum value for litter being deposited at the site. However, on beaches in small bays, enclosed for example by rocky promontories, the dynamics of litter is different. Such sites can trap litter, which is subsequently only redistributed within the bay by waves and wind action. Therefore, the number of litter items recorded during a survey could potentially represent litter accumulation over time.

The composition of litter recorded on beaches also reflects its ability to reach the shore. The litter washed ashore is biased towards litter items that float and those that do not disintegrate, dissolve or decay quickly in the marine environment. The main category of litter found on beaches is plastic (also named artificial polymer material), which often floats and does not disintegrate rapidly in water (OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017; Addamo, 2017). The main components of the other common categories all float and/or decay slowly (wood, bottles, jars, light bulbs, tins and cans). Metal and glass from seaborne sources, are therefore probably under-represented because they are more likely to sink than items made of plastic, rubber and wood. Paper is probably also under-represented because it will generally disintegrate more rapidly in water than other materials. This significantly reduces the likelihood of environmental harm caused by paper litter. On beaches used intensively for recreation, the greater part of beach litter is often composed of items abandoned by beach visitors (e.g. sweetand fast-food packaging and cigarette butts) rather than litter washed ashore.

Confidence assessment

In the present assessment, there is high confidence in both the methodology and data availability except for the Arctic Waters Region where data are limited, especially for trends assessment.

Sites and surveys

The survey sites of the OSPAR Beach Litter Monitoring Programme are located on the North-East Atlantic coasts of Denmark (including beaches in East Greenland and Faeroe islands), France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (Figure a).

In the present assessment, only survey sites with sufficient data availability were included to ensure a robust assessment. In total, 114 out of the 211 survey sites registered in the OSPAR Beach Litter Database are considered. Survey sites were selected according to the decision scheme presented in Figure c. For the beach litter status assessment (from 2018 to 2020), only sites with at least three surveys per year over two years are selected (114 sites with 1 137 surveys). For the trends assessment (from 2015 to 2020), only survey sites with at least two surveys per year over five years are included (83 sites with 1 693 surveys). In general at least three surveys per years are needed and available (Schulz et al., 2017), but the use of two surveys per year allows to include more data for the Arctic Waters Region. A detailed list of sites and surveys included in the assessment are presented in Table a.

Figure c: Decision scheme for inclusion of survey sites in the beach litter assessment

Figure c: Decision scheme for inclusion of survey sites in the beach litter assessment

The surveys are carried out according to OSPAR’s Coordinated Environmental Monitoring Programme (CEMP) guidelines for marine monitoring and assessment of beach litter. Collected data are reported in the OSPAR Beach Litter Database.

The beaches, on which the survey sites are situated, mainly comprise sand or gravel and are exposed to the open sea. They are in most cases accessible to surveyors all year round for surveying and litter removal. However some sites, such as in the north of the OSPAR Area (Arctic Waters Region), are not accessible or not possible to survey during the winter survey period. For this assessment, a minimum of two surveys per year has been allowed for Arctic areas but a minimum number of three surveys per year will be used in the future. The beaches have a minimum length of 100 m, are generally free of buildings all year round, and are (in most cases) not subject to litter collection activities (beach cleaning). National coordinators of the surveys have used expert judgement and local knowledge of coastal areas when selecting the survey sites. For example, in some countries local conditions do not allow for selection of beaches mainly comprising sand, and in some locations it is not possible to select beaches of 100 m in length. The start and end points of the survey sites are marked clearly and registered into the OSPAR Beach Litter Database, to ensure that exactly the same site is monitored for all surveys.

Litter sampling and classification

According to the Beach litter CEMP guidelines, at each survey site, all litter items should be recorded four times a year using the OSPAR beach litter monitoring protocol. The survey periods are as follows: winter (between mid-December and mid-January), spring (April), summer (between mid-June and mid-July), and autumn (between mid-September and mid-October). However, due to limitations dictated by weather conditions, availability of manpower etc. not all survey sites included in this analysis have been surveyed as regularly as this for the whole period (see Table a). Some survey sites have only recently been added to the monitoring programme and surveys on other sites have been discontinued.

During each survey, the number of individual pieces of litter is recorded and allocated to one of the 112 predefined litter types, identified with a unique OSPAR identification number (ID), which are in the OSPAR beach litter survey list (Table b).

The survey list allows for the registration of identifiable items, unknown items and litter fragments in different size categories. Litter items which do not fit into a definite litter type category, are registered under the litter types “other” for the given material or use category (e.g. litter type “other plastic/polystyrene items”, OSPAR ID 48). Multilingual photo guides are available to assist surveyors with the identification and categorisation of litter items. All litter items are normally removed from the beach during the survey.

Paraffin and other chemicals, which - although included in the OSPAR Beach Litter Database - are recorded using a different method than for litter items, are not analysed here.

Assessment method

The assessment method used in the present report is described in the Beach litter CEMP guidelines and is briefly described below. Non-identifiable meso-plastic fragments (5 mm to 2,5 cm) and waxes/other pollutants are excluded from the analysis.

For the present assessment, each litter type is classified:

  • according to its material composition as defined in MSFD recommendations (MSFD Technical Group on Marine Litter – TG-ML., 2013): Artificial polymer material (also known as plastic), Rubber, Cloth / Textile, Paper / cardboard, Processed / worked wood, Metal, Glass / ceramics and Undefined;
  • as either Single-use plastics (SUP), Maritime-related plastic items (SEA) or other items. The attribution to the SUP category relies on the attribution defined in MSFD recommendations (MSFD TG-ML Online Photo Catalogue of the Joint List of Litter Categories). The SEA category is based on the FISH category defined in MSFD recommendations (Hanke et al., 2019), except that non- plastic items are excluded. In addition, the name “FISH” was replace by SEA as “FISH”appears to be too restrictive knowing the category also includes aquaculture-related items. It must be noted that some slight differences exist between SUP and FISH MSFD categories and the SUP and SEA categories used in the present assessment due to differences between OSPAR and MSFD beach litter survey lists.
  • as litter type either directly targeted or not by existing measures, specifically OSPAR ML RAP 2014 – 2020 and EU SUP Directive 2019/904.
  • as either identified litter type, non-identified litter type, and non-identifiable plastic fragments. Identified litter types include all items which can be identified and attributed to defined litter types. Non-identified litter types include all items which do not correspond to existing litter types in the OSPAR survey list and are recorded in “other” categories. Non-identifiable plastic fragments correspond to plastic fragments which are too fragmented to be identified.

Categories attribution for each litter type is detailed in Table b.

Analyses were performed using the software package litteR (Walvoort et al., 2021) and Excel.

Calculations were performed using median-based robust statistical methods which are appropriate (i) for the skewed beach litter data distributions (Schulzet al., 2017, 2019) and (ii) to support decision-making as they provide a snapshot of the typical situation without influence of extreme events. It must be noted that median values are in general lower than mean (average) values, because the extreme values are excluded from the calculations. In addition, median values of all individual litter types do not directly add up to a Total Count value, and adjusted calculation methods are needed to combine median values (see e.g. the calculation of median-based percentages below).

Status is assessed over a three-year period (from 2018 to 2020) and trends over a six-year period (from 2015 to 2020).

Analyses were done at beach scales and results were aggregated at higher spatial scales (OSPAR Maritime Area and Regions) using the blocking method (Van Belle and Hughes, 1984). In the present assessment, it is considered that at least three sites are needed to make calculations at an aggregated scale. If fewer than three sites are available, results should be used with care and are considered to be indicative (with lower information). This is for example the case for trend results in the Arctic Waters Region I.

At survey site scale, abundances were assessed by calculating the median of survey data for a single site and trends were assessed by calculating slopes and associated p-value using the median-based Theil-Sen method.

At higher scales (OSPAR Maritime Area and Regions), abundances were assessed by calculating the median of medians obtained for each survey site and trends were assessed by calculating the medians of slopes obtained for each survey site and the p-value of aggregated survey sites.

All percentages were calculated by dividing the median of a selected litter group by the sum of all litter groups considered (e.g. percentage of Artificial polymer material is obtained by dividing the median of Artificial polymer material by the sum of the medians of all material categories).

Top 10 or Top 15 litter types were assessed based on ranking of medians of individual litter types.

Most widespread litter types were also identified by ranking litter types according to the number of survey site Top 10 they are present in).

Medians and trends were calculated for specific items targeted by OSPAR’s Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (ML RAP) 2014 – 2020: plastic bags, cigarette filters, cotton buds sticks, hunting cartridges and balloons.

The methods used to calculate abundances, percentages, trends and Top 10 at the survey site and higher scales are summarised in Table b.

Table b: OSPAR beach litter survey list and associated categories attribution. Measures considered are the ML RAP 2014 – 2020 and the EU SUP Directive 2019/904.

OSPAR ID

Litter type

Included in Total Count

Single-use plastics (SUP)

Maritime-related plastic items (SEA)

Identifiable ?

Targeted by measures?

ARTIFICIAL POLYMER MATERIAL (PLASTIC)

5

4/6-pack yokes

x

x

 

identified

not directly targeted

2

Bags

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 44

SUP Directive

3

Small plastic bags

x

x

 

identified

not directly targeted

112

Plastic bag ends

x

x

 

identified

not directly targeted

4

Drinks (bottles, containers and drums)

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

5

Cleaner (bottles, containers and drums)

x

x

 

identified

not directly targeted

6

Food containers incl. fast food containers

x

x

 

identified

not directly targeted

7

Cosmetics (bottles & containers)

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

8

Engine oil containers and drums < 50 cm

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

9

Engine oil containers and drums > 50 cm

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

10

Jerry cans

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

11

Injection gun containers

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

12

Other bottles, containers and drums

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

13

Crates

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

14

Car parts

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

15

Caps/lids

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

16

Cigarette lighters

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

17

Pens

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

18

Combs/hair brushes

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

19

Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticks

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

20

Toys & party poppers

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

21

Cups

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

22

Cutlery/trays/straws

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

23

Fertiliser/animal feed bags

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

24

Mesh vegetable bags

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

25

Gloves (typical washing up gloves)

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

113

Gloves (industrial/professional gloves)

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

26

Crab/lobster pots

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

114

Lobster and fish tags

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

27

Octopus pots

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

28

Oyster nets or mussel bags incl. plastic stoppers

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

29

Oyster trays

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

30

Plastic sheeting from mussel culture

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

31

Rope (diameter more than 1 cm)

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

32

String and cord (diameter less than 1 cm)

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

115

Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

116

Nets and pieces of net > 50 cm

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

33

Tangled nets/cord/rope and string

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

34

Fish boxes

x

 

x

identified

not directly targeted

35

Fishing line (angling)

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

36

Light sticks (tubes with fluid)

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

SUP Directive

37

Float/Buoys

x

 

x

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

38

Buckets

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

39

Strapping bands

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

40

Industrial packaging, plastic sheeting

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

41

Fibre glass

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

42

Hard hats

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

43

Shtogun cartridges

x

 

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 48

44

Shoes/sandals

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

45

Foam sponge

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

117

Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2,5 cm

 

 

 

excluded

excluded

46

Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2,5 - 50 cm

x

 

 

non-identifiable

not directly targeted

47

Plastic/polystyrene pieces > 50 cm

x

 

 

non-identifiable

not directly targeted

48

Other plastic/polystyrene items

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

64

Cigarette butts

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 48

SUP Directive

97

Condoms

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

98

Cotton bud sticks

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 48

SUP Directive

99

Sanitary towels/panty liners/backing strips

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

100

Tampons and tampon applicators

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

SUP Directive

101

Toilet fresheners

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

103

Containers/tubes

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

104

Syringes

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

121

Bagged dog faeces

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

RUBBER

49

Balloons, incl. plastic valves, ribbons, strings etc.

x

x

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 48

50

Boots

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

52

Tyres and belts

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

53

Other rubber pieces

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

CLOTH

54

Clothing

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

55

Furnishing

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

56

Sacking

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

57

Shoes (leather)

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

59

Other textiles

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

PAPER / CARDBOARD

60

Bags

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

61

Cardboard

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

118

Cartons e.g. tetrapak (milk)

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

62

Cartons e.g. tetrapk (other)

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

63

Cigarette packets

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

65

Cups

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

66

Newspapers & magazines

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

67

Other paper items

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

PROCESSED / WORKED WOOD

68

Corks

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

69

Pallets

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

70

Crates

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

71

Crab/lobster pots

x

 

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

119

Fish boxes

x

 

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

72

Ice lolly sticks/chip forks

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

73

Paint brushes

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

74

Other wood < 50 cm

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

75

Other wood > 50 cm

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

METAL

76

Aerosol/Spray cans

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

77

Bottle caps

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

78

Drink cans

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

120

Disposable BBQs

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

79

Electric appliances

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

80

Fishing weights

x

 

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

81

Foil wrappers

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

82

Food cans

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

83

Industrial scrap

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

84

Oil drums

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

86

Paint tins

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

87

Lobster /crab pots and tops

x

 

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

88

Wire, wire mesh, barbed wire

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

89

Other metal pieces < 50 cm

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

90

Other metal pieces > 50 cm

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

GLASS AND CERAMICS

91

Bottles

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

92

Light bulbs/tubes

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

93

Other glass items

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

94

Construction materials e.g. tiles

x

 

 

identified

not directly targeted

95

Octopus pots

x

 

 

identified

directly targeted

RAP action 35

96

Other ceramic/pottery items

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

UNDEFINED

102

Other sanitary items

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

105

Other medical items (swabs, bandaging etc.)

x

 

 

non-identified

not directly targeted

 

Table c: List of statistical indicators calculated at each geographical scale and corresponding calculation methods

Beach litter indicator

Survey site scale

Higher scales (OSPAR Area and Regions)

Abundance

Median of survey site data for the three-year period from 2018 to 2020

Median of survey sites medians

Percentage

100 × median of