Thousands of Pink Plastic Detergent Bottles Wash Up on British Beach

The National Trust, a U.K.-based conservation charity, says the cause is likely a cargo ship spill.
Thousands of these bright-pink plastic bottles, thought to contain stain remover, washed up on the beaches of Cornwall, England. (Photo: Facebook)
Jan 6, 2016· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

On the same shores where nautical-themed Lego pieces wash up daily, thousands of neon-pink bottles full of detergent have started littering the beaches of Cornwall, England.

The bottles washed up on Poldhu Cove on the Lizard Peninsula last Sunday, prompting National Trust volunteers to clean up the hazardous plastic, which they say could threaten the safety of local wildlife.

The mysterious bottles are believed to be from a container that fell off a cargo ship as a result of stormy seas. While the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency says there’s no evidence of the plastic products coming from a bulk carrier that lost a shipping container full of Vanish, a pink-bottled detergent, similar past incidents have all been linked to cargo spills.

Nearly 20 years ago, millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall after a huge wave hit the carrier ship and knocked the Legos container, along with 61 others, overboard. To this day, locals still find Lego pieces such as miniature cutlasses, flippers, sea grass, and dragons on the north and south coasts of Cornwall.

"There's stories of kids in the late 1990s having buckets of dragons on the beach, selling them," Tracey Williams, a beachcomber from Newquay, told BBC News. "These days the holy grail is an octopus or a dragon. It's quite competitive. If you heard that your neighbor had found a green dragon, you'd want to go out and find one yourself."

In 1992, nearly 30,000 plastic ducks and frogs washed up off the coast of Alaska when a shipping container split apart. In 2006, thousands of Doritos chip bags were found on the shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks following a cargo spill in the Atlantic.

A 2011 study from the World Shipping Council estimated that 675 shipping containers are lost at sea each year, at least when “catastrophic” losses are taken into account. Otherwise, the number is approximately 350 containers. While other sources estimate the count to be as high as 10,000, it’s difficult to confirm because there are no comprehensive statistics on the amount of containers lost at sea each year.

The environmental impact is multiplied when considering the contents of the container and their effect on the ocean’s ecosystem—think tank containers loaded with harmful chemicals, plastic toys, or other nonbiodegradable materials being dumped into the ocean.

According to Popular Science, more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste pollute our oceans annually, with researchers estimating the number to be almost three times higher. Several of these pollutants sink to the ocean floor, where small sea creatures are susceptible to ingesting them. Pollutants that end up on the surface are often eaten by marine mammals, fish, and birds, which confuse the waste for food and can choke and die as a result.

Containers lost at sea contribute to the growing threat to our ocean’s habitat, as more marine creatures die from increased pollution, not to mention detergent poisoning.