Number of plastic bags on UK beaches falls by almost half thanks to levy

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The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has announced that the number of plastic carrier bags found on U.K. beaches has fallen by almost half in only one year thanks to a supermarket surcharge.

In a news release on Tuesday the MCS said the numbers represented the lowest in more than a decade and were "fantastic news for marine wildlife." The MCS said that a 5 pence (6 cent) levy had been a major factor in the drop. The figures are based on surveys carried out in September 2016.

"In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of 10 single-use carrier bags for every 100 meters of coastline cleaned," Lauren Eyles, the MCS' Beachwatch manager, said in a statement.

"This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we've seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations," Eyles added. "It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment."

The environmental impact of plastic bags is significant. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says that animals can both mistake them for food and get tangled up in them. This can cause a range of problems, including infections, strangulation and in serious cases death.

While the plastic bag drop is good news, the MCS said that its volunteers had still "picked up a huge amount of rubbish", with 268,384 individual pieces being removed from beaches. There was also an "astonishing" hike in toy balloon and sky lantern-related litter, a 53.5 percent increase compared to 2015.