Updated:3/1/2021

Marine litter - the purpose of and challenges associated with clean-up activities.

Marine litter is a global problem that is difficult to manage. Everybody has a responsibility to keep the ocean and the marine environment clean. In Norway, many people contribute to the clean-up work and invest countless hours of work to clean up along the coast, which is something that should be greatly respected.

We know that clean-up activities make a difference. We can prevent birds and animals from getting entangled in or eating marine waste by removing the waste from coastal areas and beaches. Clean-up activities are also useful in preventing waste from returning to the ocean and spreading further. Plastic waste that is not collected will be degraded into microplastics and nanoplastics and may be absorbed into the food chains.

To clean up a beach or along the coast can be a simple matter but it can also be very challenging. The term beach cleaning has a broader meaning than simply the clean-up of a beach. The Norwegian coastline consists of different landscapes and many inaccessible and vulnerable areas. There are different beach types, smooth coastal rock slopes, reed areas, mountains, challenging terrain to move around in and remote coves that can only be accessed by boat. The guideline is also relevant to the cleaning of lakes and watercourse, where you can also face other challenges.

Some areas are easily accessible and can be cleaned by private individuals and volunteers. In more demanding areas, there are stricter requirements concerning expertise, experience, systematic HSE work and equipment. These areas should be cleaned by professional clean-up operators. The amount and type of litter will also influence who is suitable to clean an area.

Participating in beach clean-up operations can provide fantastic experiences of nature, a great sense of community with others and the feeling of contributing towards the efforts for a cleaner ocean.

Forsøplet rullesteinstrand i Finnmark. Foto: Senter for oljevern og marint miljø

Purpose and target group

The Norwegian Centre for Oil Spill Preparedness and Marine Environment has developed a national guideline describing best practices for the clean-up of marine litter. The purpose of the guideline is to take care of the health and safety of clean-up personnel, protect the environment and make the planning and execution more efficient.

The guideline has been developed for organisers and clean-up personnel but may also be useful for other target groups. Organiser refers to those who plans and organises a clean-up operation. The guideline can be used in many ways. The basic principles of the guideline apply to all types of clean-up operations, whether large or small. Whether you are going to clean a beach together with a school class or preform a larger, professional clean-up in a more inaccessible place, you may use different parts of the guideline. As a participant in a clean-up operation, you may find adequate information through the article A Clean-up Operation and the Checklist for Clean-up Personnel. If you are an organiser, you may find it useful to read through several articles and both checklists.

The structure of the guideline in brief

The guideline consists of articles and checklists. There is a checklist available for those who organise clean-up operations, as well as a checklist for those participating in a clean-up operation. The articles contain background material on relevant topics.

Articles and checklists:

Limitations

Marine litter refers to all solid material resulting from human activity that has been left or otherwise ends up in the marine environment. Containers of liquid waste, such as waste oil and other chemicals, are also considered marine litter in this context. Marine litter includes waste both from offshore and onshore sources that ends up in the marine environment.

This guideline deals with the clean-up of ownerless waste, i.e., waste of which the source is unknown. We call it ownerless because it cannot be traced to a person who can legally be understood as the owner of the waste. If you notice litter outside the premises of a company or know who the polluter is, you must report the littered area to the local authority, which is the local pollution authority or the County Governor.

Clean-up of marine litter on Svalbard is not addressed explicitly in this guideline. Here, the Governor of Svalbard is an important stakeholder and there are some special rules and hazards that need to be considered.

Thanks

We would like to thank those who have contributed to the work on the guideline: Oslofjord Outdoor Recreation Council (OF), Bergen og Omland Outdoor Recreation Council, Lofoten Avfallsselskap, the Friends of the Earth Norway, the Municipality of Tromsø and In The Same Boat.

Several participants have already prepared guidelines for beach cleaning, and we would also like to thank the organisations behind the guidelines from which we found inspiration.

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