Draft Scottish Marine Litter Strategy Consultation

Marine litter impacts on Scotland’s society, economy and marine environment. The draft strategy we consult on will aim to address the levels of marine litter present in our marine and coastal environment.


Marine litter is any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment 1 .

Marine litter consists of items that have been made or used by people and deliberately discarded or unintentionally lost into the sea or coastline including such materials transported into the marine environment from land by rivers, drainage or sewage systems or wind. Typical examples are plastics, wood, metals, glass, rubber, clothing and paper.

Marine litter is a global problem which can be a threat to ecosystems, has socio-economic costs and can also pose a threat to human health. In addition, marine litter threatens the realisation of a shared vision for 'clean, healthy, safe, productive, biologically diverse marine and coastal environments, managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people' and may also impact upon Scotland's Strategic Objectives, most notably the drive to become a Greener, Wealthier & Fairer, Safer & Stronger and Healthier Scotland.

Scotland's Zero Waste Plan (2010) sets ambitious targets for waste reduction, reuse and recycling and is critical for developing the culture of waste as resource. This is reflected in our National Litter Strategy, currently also being consulted on, which includes educating the public about the importance of disposing of their litter responsibly. But litter in Scotland's seas can come from both land and sea based activities. Sources can include beaches, rivers and landfill and other activities in Scotland, ships at sea inside or outside Scotland's seas, and litter sourced from terrestrial activities in other countries and carried by currents. The length of our coastline and the size of our marine area mean it can be more challenging to monitor the problem cost effectively.

A number of studies have looked at the differing proportions of litter from each of these and their results estimate that at the global scale the greatest proportion (up to 80% in some cases) 2 is from land based sources, with similar proportions in Scotland.

An analysis of the type and sources of marine litter in Scotland from the Marine Conservation Society (Beachwatch Big Weekend campaign 2012) 3 revealed that public litter remains the highest proportion of sourced litter. Plastic continued to be the most dominant type of litter found on Scotland's beaches. The durability of plastic also means that uncontrolled disposal is problematic as plastic can persist in the environment for a very long time.

Establishing the actual volumes of litter that are present on our coastline is difficult and levels vary depending on the influence of location, tide, wind and weather. In the OSPAR 4 region, a pilot study published in 2007 found an average of 542 items of marine litter of various sizes per 100 metre survey on the reference beaches 5 .

The Scottish Government's ambition is to lead the way on tackling marine litter, through a new Strategy that complements Scotland's first National Litter Strategy, builds on current efforts to reduce marine litter and contributes to international action through the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Marine Scotland is developing a high level draft Marine Litter Strategy which aims to address the levels of marine litter present in our marine and coastal environment. The Strategy seeks to maximise opportunities and minimise threats to addressing the levels of litter present, and recognises that the Marine Strategy Framework Directive is a key driver for addressing the problem of marine litter in Scotland.

The Marine Litter Strategy provides an opportunity to build on current initiatives to reduce marine litter and consider what additional work or interventions may be of value at the national level to implement the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

At present, responsibility for regulating marine litter is spread across several UK bodies and further efforts need to be made to help all those organisations responsible for litter to co-ordinate efforts.

  • Focus on achieving zero input of litter into the marine environment, i.e. action through National Litter Strategy.
  • There needs to be better education regarding the problems and effects of marine litter.
  • We need more data on the extent and spread of offshore litter - both floating and on the seabed.

The Scottish Government is seeking your views on the content of the Scottish Marine Litter Strategy and would like your comments on the proposed vision, strategic directions, possible actions and preferred option for delivery of a Strategy.


Back to top