Every year in August and September, volunteers across Europe devote part of their time to clean up beaches and coastal areas in their neighborhood. This summer, many members of Seas At Risk have organised cleanup days with activities wrapping up in the third week-end of September (20-22nd), coinciding with “Cleanup the World Day”.

Every year in August and September, volunteers across Europe devote part of their time to clean up beaches and coastal areas in their neighborhood. This summer, many members of Seas At Risk have organised cleanup days with activities wrapping up in the third week-end of September (20-22nd), coinciding with “Cleanup the World Day”.

This international coastal cleanup day is the largest voluntary cleaning action in the world, held annually on the third Saturday in September, when volunteers around the world gather in each country to clean up the sea and its coasts, rivers and lakes. Activities in many countries have already started however, and SAR members have been active in coordinating initiatives throughout Europe during the summer.


North Sea Foundation, the Netherlands

With the help of 500 volunteers in different venues, a team from the North Sea Foundation has been cleaning the entire North Sea coast in the month of August. Starting on 1st August at the Belgian border, the team took a 350 kilometers journey to clean up Dutch beaches and finished on 24-25th August on the Wadden island of Schiermonnikoog, at the German border.

Volunteers collected a varied selection of litter. Ropes and nets were the most found items, followed by plastic pieces, cigarette butts, plastic packaging items and balloons.


Surfrider Foundation Europe, France

In France, major cleanups were planned all along September, with a particular focus around the 7-8th September week-end, thanks to the efforts of Surfrider Foundation, which organised special events in various locations. Cassis near the Mediterranean, Quiberon in Brittany, and La Teste de Buch in Aquitaine are three exceptional heritage sites in France where participants were able to experience the beauty of pristine coastal regions and participate in environmental protection activities.

The cleanup activities are part of the wider Surfrider Foundation Europe’s Ocean Initiatives, which bring together an awareness campaign and a hands-on coastlines cleanup operation. Ocean Initiatives have taken place, worldwide, for the past 18 years, with Surfrider volunteers and local branches organising local cleanup operations.

Surfrider Foundation Europe manages the co-ordination of operations and offers logistical support. The organisation also provides educational tools informing participants about the problems of macro waste, encouraging them to adopt more ecologically responsible behaviours. Last but not least, it broadcasts news of the events through its Ocean Initiatives website on a European, national and local scale.

Ocean initiatives are traditionally launched on the first weekend of spring and then held all year long throughout Europe. The 2013 Surfrider’s Ocean Initiatives are placed under the high patronage of European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik and also linked with a lobby campaign calling for the prohibition of the distribution of single-use plastic bags in Europe. Ocean Initiatives in 2013 have gathered 43,884 participants with more than 1085 cleanups organised so far throughout Europe, and a total of 32 612 bags of waste collected.


Ecovitae, Slovenia

Slovenian volunteers will meet on 21st September for their annual clean-up activities along the Slovenian coasts. Ecovitae has teamed up for the event with among others the Regional Development Centre of Koper and MARLISCO, an EU funded project aiming to raise public awareness on the issue of marine litter.

As part of this Slovenian project, marine litter does not only get collected. It is classified according to type and quantities, and a yearly report is issued to monitor data from around the world, identifying how much waste has been collected, how many volunteers participated, and which are the most common kinds of waste.


MedSOS, Greece

Between 1 May and 10 June 2013, 15.000 volunteers, representing 284 organisations or institutions, implemented 245 local actions as part of this year’s successful Clean up the Med campaign in Greece. This year marked the 18th anniversary of the event, a beach and other natural areas cleanup campaign coordinated by MedSOS.

The campaign, which was sponsored by the Athenian Brewery S.A, was held under the auspices of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP). Since 2006, MedSOS also cooperates with the Laboratory of Marine Geology and Physical Oceanography (University of Patras) for the design and processing of special questionnaires, known as “Beach Observation Questionnaires.

The questionnaire results show that plastic is the dominant litter material on Greek beaches, accounting for almost half of the total litter items (37-51%). Plastic dominance is followed by paper (12-18%) and metal (7-16%) and glass (5-9%) as indicated by the overall data acquired throughout the years.

Over the past seven years, the campaign has inspired more than 113.000 volunteers from all over Greece to take action and claim their right to a healthy environment.


Legambiente, Italy

In Italy, volunteers are gearing up for a major cleanup of Italian beaches between 27 and 29 September, coordinated by Legambiente. These activities are part of a wider initiative launched at global level – Cleanup the World - where anybody can contact the closest organisers and propose activities in their area, taking action to protect the environment and promote sustainable living.


Marine Conservation Society, United Kingdom

The Marine Conservation Society runs beach cleaning activities throughout the year, and a special Beachwatch Big Weekend is planned for 20-23rd September. Beachwatch is MSC’s coastal environmental initiative, supporting local individuals, groups and communities in caring for their local shoreline.

The Beachwatch weekend is the organisation’s flagship event, now in its 19th year, when thousands of volunteers get involved in the most influential fight against marine litter in the UK.


Impacts and solutions

All the above activities not merely aimed at collecting waste, but also at raising awareness about the environmental consequences of marine litter. Marine species like turtles and birds mistake abandoned trash like plastic bags for food, swallowing it and causing internal damage, or simply becoming entangled in items so they are unable to continue their normal activities, often leading to death. Fish also mistake tiny plastic particles for food, which can become concentrated in their bodies, and eventually this plastic can end up on our plate.

Plastic items are a major component of litter in the marine environment along the North-East Atlantic coast, in some locations making up 80% of what is found along the shore line according to OSPAR (2007). As it can take many hundreds of years to degrade, the oceans are rapidly filling up with plastic that is very hard to remove once it has left the beach.

The best way to deal with the problem of marine litter is to prevent it from reaching the marine environment in the first place. Seas At Risk is working with other NGOS to ensure that there is proper implementation of waste management systems throughout the European Union, with the development of a marine litter manifesto and the aim to reach a 50% reduction.

In 2014, the European Commission will be reviewing its waste legislation policies, and Seas At Risk will be working hard to ensure that prevention of marine litter is high on the agenda.

For more information, and to get involved in cleanup activities near you, check out these dedicated websites:


North Sea Foundation, the Netherlands
Surfrider Foundation Europe, France
Ecovitae, Slovenia
MedSOS, Greece here
Legambiente, Italy
Marine Conservation Society, United Kingdom

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