Cigarette butts and filters make up a fifth of litter found on European beaches, according to data from the EEA
collected between 2013 and 2019. Disposable plastics in the form of drink caps, shopping bags, and small plastic pieces comprise an additional 20 percent of litter found on beaches across Europe.
NOAA and Wood Hole Sea Grant
estimates that cigarette butts take ten years to bio-degrade at sea, while plastic shopping bags can take double the time. That biodegradable timeline is quick compared to other litter at sea. According to that same study, plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to bio-degrade.
Volunteer groups scour beaches across the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the North-East Atlantic Ocean looking to document litter on various beaches through EEA’s Marine LitterWatch app. Users are specifically NGOs, civil society associations and other kinds of community-based organizations that organize and facilitate monitoring or clean-up events. For the data to be used, the event must adhere to a specific set of criteria laid out by EEA in its Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)
. The data are checked for quality by EEA before being published.