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Litter on or in the sea

This guide gives an overview of who has responsibility for clearing litter floating in the sea.


Duties are placed on ships for the appropriate disposal of litter, but litter often has a source on land. It is not clear in law that any specific public body has responsibility for the clearance of litter floating in the sea.

Although the Maritime and Coastguard Agency provides policy documents and may become involved in the clearing of litter on the sea, it does not appear as if this body or, in fact, any other body has a legal responsibility to do so.

Responsibility for clearing litter from the sea

Councils: District and borough councils do not have a specific duty to clear litter from rivers or the sea.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency: There is no apparent legislation placing a duty on the Marine and Coastguard Agency to clear litter from the sea/marine environment.

Environment Agency: The Environment Agency has responsibility for water quality and flooding but does not have any duty to keep the sea clear of litter or enforce against littering.

Volunteers: There is no legal obligation on volunteers to clear litter from the sea.