It is one of the UK’s most unspoiled beaches in a small remote community in the far north-west.

But after becoming fed up with the impact of plastic on their beautiful sandy beaches, the residents of Durness in Sutherland are taking vigilante action.

Richard Mackay and Sons, a small convenience store in the village, has become the latest to support an anti-plastic campaign by refusing to give their customers plastic bags to carry their shopping. 

Instead, the shop offers compostable bags for the price of 20 pence.
A sign inside the shop reads: “As we all know our oceans are filling up with plastic. By 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in them.

“We are trying to do our bit by working with our suppliers encouraging them to cut down on packaging. This is not easy.

“We will not be offering plastic bags to our customers. Our new style bags are made from plants and you can compost them in your own home compost. The cost per bag is 20p.

“If you still prefer plastic you are welcome to bring your own. Thanks for your support.”

The move was welcomed by Plastic@Bay, a campaign to reduce plastic waste in the north west Highlands. 

Anne Mackenzie, who works in the shop, said: “We weren’t allowed to give out plastic bags anyway, because we had to charge for them. But now they’re compostable.

“Some people also take boxes, or bring their own bags. 
“I suppose it is rather remote here, but there are other shops here too. 

“Plastic@Bay is in Durness, so it’s important to us. It’s a small community so we all know each other.”

The group has recently spent £12,000 of money donated by a local fisheries action group on an electric quad bike and trailer to hunt for discarded fishing gear and other plastic on nearby beaches.It collected more than two tonnes of plastic in its first year of operation.

Analysis showed that the plastic came from all over the world, as objects which had begun life in Russia or Canada ended up on the beach at Durness.

A recent sweep of a Sutherland beach turned up a haul of waste of which around 70 per cent was fishing nets, ropes and components such as plastic pegs (FNRCs).

Dr Julien Moreau, who runs the campaign group, said: “The new equipment will help us remove plastic pollution from difficult to reach coastline. 

“This is good news for local fisheries because removing plastic from our coastline prevents it going back into the sea and being ingested by fish and entering the food chain.”

He congratulated Richard Mackay and Sons on the store’s rejection of plastic bags, many of which eventually end up in the sea and cause havoc with marine wildlife.

“Most of the FNRCs have been lying on this beach for many many years, lots have unravelled into twine and disintegrated into micro-plastics so fine that they are now impossible to remove,” he said.

“These micro-plastics are destined to be washed out to sea where they will persist in the environment presenting a potential risk to ecosystems and marine biota, and can enter the food chain. 

“This is why it is so important to remove FNRCs from the beach before they become micro-plastics.”

Dr Moreau, who heads the clean-up group in Durness, plans to construct a new plastic recycling centre that will turn the discarded fishing gear and other plastic into useful objects for resale.

The eco-business will cost £65,000 to build and is the first of its type in Scotland.

Plastic@Bay is not the only campaign group to take matters into its own hands when faced with the 51 trillion pieces of plastic thought to be washing around the world’s oceans. 

Campaign groups and charities from around Scotland have formed squads of volunteers from coastal communities to sweep beaches and look for discarded plastic.

Charity Surfers Against Sewage joined forces with the RSPB earlier this month to collect 100 bags of plastic from the beaches of Aberdeen.The groups attracted more than 150 people to collect rubbish.

Other plastic collections have taken place in Glasgow, in areas such as Maryhill, Patrick and Shawlands, at Bishopbriggs and at the Union Canal in Edinburgh.

Last year, a Greenpeace expedition around Scottish coastlines found plastic in the feeding ground of basking sharks, in the habitats of puffins and in the beaks of sea birds. 

It is thought that as many as 90 per cent of sea birds have ingested plastic, as they often mistake it for organic material to use for their nests.