Beach-cleanups are the most efficient approach
Each year, eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans. The most important way to combat marine litter is to stop the supply of new litter, but to reduce the environmental and economic impacts of the problem, we must also clean up the litter that has already ended up in the oceans.
It is estimated that 94% of the plastic that enters the oceans sinks to the bottom. Around one percent is in the water column or on the surface, and four percent is thought to end up along coastlines. At first sight you might think that cleanups should focus on the ocean floor. However, if we look at the concentration of rubbish, the picture changes. The concentration of plastic on the ocean floor is 70 kg per square kilometre, according to the British consultancy Eunomia. The equivalent figures for the open waters and gyres are 1 kg and 18 kg respectively. In the coastal zone the concentration is far higher: two tonnes per square kilometre. Removing plastic from the coast is therefore far more efficient than removing it from open waters or the ocean floor.
Pioneers in the counties of Nordland and Troms have been systematically cleaning up marine litter for many years. Interest in beach cleanups has also increased significantly in Finnmark and Svalbard in recent years.
In Nordland, the number of beach cleanups rose by 35 percent from 2016 to 2017, while in Troms the number rose by 47 percent. In these counties, local waste management companies and municipalities have taken on a great deal of the responsibility for organising beach-cleanups and dealing with the waste collected.
In Finnmark and Svalbard there have been relatively few beach cleanups organised by volunteers, according to Keep Norway Beautiful. That is probably because they have low population densities combined with long and often inaccessible coastlines. Nevertheless, the number of cleanups is clearly on the rise, doubling from 2016 to 2017.
Beach-cleaning volunteers make a big contribution to cleaner oceans
Every year, tens of thousands of Norwegians volunteer to clean up beaches. Keep Norway Beautiful recently performed a survey to find out what is the motivation that drives these volunteers. Half of the respondents stated that they were motivated by a desire to make their local area cleaner.
Norut is carrying out a survey to find out how much Norwegians would be willing to pay for clean beaches. The survey found that people would be willing to pay NOK 2,000–5,000 per household for Norway’s beaches to be clean. The ongoing study shows that tourists on Svalbard would be willing to pay NOK 500–1,000 per visit for clean beaches. Compared with other environmental issues, those amounts are very high. This may imply that marine litter is seen as a threat to people’s wellbeing and enjoyment of the countryside. The fact that tourists on Svalbard are willing to pay so much suggests that marine litter is a threat to the tourist industry.