The ‘disturbing’ scale of plastic pollution in the Firth of Forth has been revealed


The scale of plastic pollution in the Firth of Forth is much worse than previously thought after research was conducted by the University of Dundee.

16 coastal locations were examined on either side of the Forth estuary by undergraduate student Suzanne Grimes.

Suzanne retrieved a total of 20, 281 pieces of plastic from a total area of just 48 square metres.

Of this total over 71% of the pollution were small plastic pellets the size of lentils, known as nurdles which are melted down to make plastic products.

Nurdles made up over 71% of plastic pollution on the shore of the Forth Estuary

The area is home to plastics manufacturers, suggesting that mishandling in the industrial process is causing large numbers of these nurdles to find their way onto our shores and pose a major threat to birds and marine life.

Bo’ness was the most polluted of the sites studied, with 9671 pieces of primary plastic and 4894 pieces of secondary plastic removed from an area of three metre squared, and just two centimetres deep.

On average, 1,268 pieces of microplastic (primary and secondary) were found at each location.

Suzanne, who graduated with a degree in Environmental Science last year, said: “I was absolutely shocked by what I found when I started this project. I didn’t expect to find so many heavily polluted areas. It was overwhelming and disturbing.

“What I found was worse than any previous attempts to gauge the scale of the plastic pollution problem had shown.

“Inspections take place but these are announced ahead of time so areas can be cleaned up. When you conduct a survey at random a different picture emerges.

The nurdles are thought to be having a profound effect on marine life

“When you walk onto a beach you can see there is clearly so much more pollution out there but you choose the sites you will study beforehand so you are not prejudiced by what you see when you arrive.

“I expected to find a lot of plastic bags, bottles, cotton buds and things like that because there’s been so much publicity about them, but the nurdles really shocked me. It’s impossible to say how bad the situation is, but you must be talking about millions of pieces in the Firth of Forth. I live in Fife and used to take my children to beaches here but I wouldn’t do that now having found what I have.

“Something needs to be done about this. We are meant to have a polluter-pays principle when it comes to dealing with pollution, but the manufacturer is only liable until the goods leave the factory. Then it is down to the transport company. And when it gets into drains someone else again. Millions of pieces of primary plastic are finding their way onto our beaches and into our water and no one is taking responsibility.”

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