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Finland’s beaches the dirtiest in the Baltic Sea

‘Modern take-away lifestyle’ blamed for high levels of plastic and other debris littering shorelines, but report also blames poor waste management for allowing rubbish to be washed up onshore.

pihlajasaari, roska, tölkki
Helsinki's Pihlajasaari beach

The first research project to monitor levels of marine litter in the Baltic Sea looked at the condition of 23 beaches in Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia over a two-year period.

The EU-funded MARLIN study concluded that Finnish shorelines were notably more cluttered with rubbish than the other countries’, and 75 percent of the litter was found to be plastic.

“Rubbish is a real problem here on urban beaches,” said project leader Hanna Haaksi from Finland’s Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association, one of the partners in the project. “In these cases we can’t say that the waste has been washed in from the sea, as the problem is specific to built-up areas,” she says.

Nine beaches in Finland were monitored for the project – Utö, Björkö and Mustfinn in the archipelago town of Pargas; Ruissalo national park in Turku; Hovirinta in Kaarina; Jussarö in Raseborg; Pihlajasaari in Helsinki, and two beaches on Lehmäsaari in Kotka.

In October on the island of Pihlajasaari researchers discovered large mounds of construction waste that had been washed across the sea from the Jätkäsaari development. But this was an exceptional case as by far the lion’s share of the waste recorded originated from what the report calls “our modern lifestyle, consumption and production patterns, as well as attitudes and behaviours concerning waste recycling and littering.”

”The rubbish found on the beaches is overwhelmingly a result of our take-away culture,” Haaksi says. “This includes food and drink-related bits of plastic and metal, bottle tops, plastic forks and packaging,” she says.

Haaksi says the findings beg the question of whether attitudes to littering have become more relaxed in recent years. However because the MARLIN project is the first of its kind, it’s not possible to conclusively say how rubbish levels in the region have changed over time.

As well as littering by coastal tourism, the report also blames poor waste management in households, inadequate waste infrastructure such as open landfills, and a lack of water treatment plants for creating debris which reaches the sea by winds, tides, rivers and drain-off water.

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