Big Beach Clean: Thousands of volunteers to take part this weekend

Cigarette butts widely found and ‘extremely dangerous to the habitats of the sea’

More than 400 groups, including thousands of volunteers, are cleaning up beaches across the country over this weekend.

More than 6,500 volunteers have registered to take part, which includes students from local schools .

The Big Beach Clean is an annual event organised by Clean Coasts, a charity programme run through the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, and is running from Friday until Sunday.

Clean Coasts works with communities to help protect Ireland’s waterways, coastline, seas, ocean and marine life.


Margaret Brown, chairperson of Sandycove Clean Coasts group, said the event is an "opportunity to make an improvement to the environment" and that 15 volunteers would be cleaning the beach over the three days.

“The big thing we want to do is get rid of cigarette smoking on the beach. That is the biggest problem we have here. They smoke the cigarette, put it out in the sand and the butt is washed out into the sea. It’s extremely dangerous to the habitats of the sea.”

In addition, she says, “a lot of people leave clothes and shoes behind and we bring a lot of it to the charity shop”.

Proinsias Ó Tuama, who founded the Clean Coasts Ballynamona group in Co Cork in 2015, was cleaning local beaches with 20 transition year students from St Colman's Community College in Midleton on Friday morning.

“It’s been going great this morning. We probably will be hitting 18 bags full soon, maybe 20 bags,” he said.

“The students are out today and we’ll have community volunteers out over the weekend. The group is in its seventh year now. When I started, we lifted 12 tonnes of litter in the first year cleaning the 1.2km stretch of Ballynamona beach. We’ve added other beaches over the years and by the end of this year we’ll be cleaning 80km of the coastline with over 300 regular volunteers.

“You would have certain beaches that have more localised problems. It depends really on where you go. There can be everything from tyres, sewage-related litter, plastics from the marine industry, anti-social litter.”

Mairéad Staunton was taking part in a clean up at Bertra Beach, Co Mayo, on Friday evening.

“I do a litter pick-up every day. I go in for a swim at Old Head Beach at 8am and after I get dressed myself and my friend go up and down the beach and keep it fairly tidy,” she said.

“In the last few months I’ve had others join me... It’s great, you have a chat and you’re achieving something at the same time.

“We get some marine waste, like netting and rope and string that comes in from the sea. On the beaches, you get a huge amount of cigarette butts. Smokers don’t see any other way to get rid of their butt generally than to just fling it.

“There’s coffee cups, masks, flip flops, towels, buckets and spades; things that are not waste. I’ve been to the charity shop a few times since I’ve started this.”

Ms Staunton said there has also been more food container litter in recent months mostly likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The restaurants were closed, there was an awful lot of plastic and cardboard containers handed out with food in them and there were no extra bins provided so a lot of them ended up in the hedgerows and roadsides. It’s non-stop,” she added.

“I would encourage people to just give an hour of their lives to it, it makes such a difference and they will probably be more aware of littering themselves and less likely to do it in the future.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times