Skip to content
The article is more than 2 years old

Plastic waste destroying Finland's Baltic beaches

On average, there is twice as much rubbish on Finnish beaches than the threshold set by the EU for a beach to be considered clean.

Jouni Kelkka pitelemässä Lehmäsaaren rannalta löytynyttä muovipulloa Kotkassa.
Finnish beaches along the coast of the Gulf of Finland are monitored three times a year to calculate the amount of waste. Image: Antro Valo / Yle
Yle News

At first glance, Lehmäsaari beach near the city of Kotka on the southern Gulf of Finland coastline looks clean and tidy. However, a different truth is revealed as Jouni Kelkka, of Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association (Pidä saaristo siistinä in Finnish), walks along the beach looking under the reeds washed ashore by the waves.

He gradually fills a rubbish bag with soap bottles, balloons, an empty cigarette case, lipstick, jars. Kelkka's most common discoveries are plastic debris and alcoholic beverage cans.

"Fortunately, the amount of rubbish has decreased over the years. Previously, I could have filled four or five plastic bags with rubbish, but now it's only one bag," sayd Kelkka, who has been monitoring rubbish on Lehmäsaari beach for years.

Story continues after the photo.

Jouni Kelkan keräämiä roskia Lehmänsaaren rannalta Kotkasta.
Jouni Kelkka of Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association collecting items of rubbish on Lehmäsaari beach. Image: Antro Valo / Yle

The contents of the rubbish bags have not changed much over the years, with a lot plastic waste still being transported to the beach via the sea.

Urban city beaches in worst state

The amount of debris on Gulf of Finland beaches has been monitored since 2012, and there are currently 13 beaches involved stretching from Hiekkasärkät in Kalajoki in the north to the islands of Utö and Örö in the south.

Lehmäsaari in Kotka is the easternmost beach being monitored.

There are three different types of beach: an urban or city beach, a natural state beach and a peri-urban beach, meaning it is located in an area immediately adjacent to a city or urban area. Lehmäsaari is in the last of these three categories.

"The type of rubbish also varies between the different types of beaches," the association's project manager Atte Lindqvist tells Yle. "City beaches are busier and have the most plastic wrappers, plastic bags and cigarette butts. There is less rubbish on the beaches of the outer archipelago and it may have travelled longer distances."

For monitoring purposes, rubbish is gathered from the beaches three times a year, and always from the same 100-metre strip, so that the results can be analysed and compared. The collected debris is counted and categorised according to the material.

A new category is face masks, which were not found on the beach at Kotka.

Story continues after the photo.

Jouni Kelkan keräämiä roskia Lehmäsaaren rannalta Kotkasta.
Rubbish collected from Lehmäsaari beach. Image: Antro Valo / Yle

In 2020 the EU agreed on a threshold for a beach to be considered clean, which is set at no more than 20 items of rubbish per 100 metres.

On average, there is twice as much rubbish on Finland's beaches.

"We don't have huge mounds of waste, but there is room for improvement. It is often a question of take-away rubbish, picnic goods and especially cigarette butts left by beach users," Lindqvist says.

In Finland, as in many other parts of the world, discarded cigarette butts are the most common type of rubbish, with more than 60 percent of collected beach debris being cigarette butts.

Change in people's attitudes

The amount of littering on beaches can also be affected by construction, as debris from coastline construction sites enters the sea and then washes ashore. The yearly monitoring of beaches has revealed that the amount of rubbish on beaches significantly decreases after construction work has been completed.

This was also noted in Lehmäsaari, when construction work in the port of Mussalo in Kotka ended.

Story continues after the photo.

Jouni Kelkka Lehmäsaaren rannalla Kotkassa.
Jouni Kelkka of Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association. Image: Antro Valo / Yle

Despite his latest findings, Kelka tells Yle that in general the amount of rubbish on Lehmäsaari beach is otherwise decreasing.

"The attitude of boaters has changed a lot. Rubbish bags are no longer dumped at sea, but are instead taken to the rubbish bin," he says, adding that while it is impossible to clean the sea of rubbish, we can influence the cleanliness of the beaches.

Members of the public can also make a difference to improve the situation. The Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association encourages people to help by organising their own Clean the Beach event.

Latest: paketissa on 10 artikkelia