A Litter Respect

CIWM President, Professor Margaret Bates, takes a closer look at the recently-published litter strategy for England, saying it’s a useful tool to help address the issue of litter on our streets.

I am not sure whether to be depressed or happy with the publication of the new National Litter Strategy for England. Depressed that we as a modern developed society need a strategy to address the problem, or happy that government has responded to the, sadly, obvious, need.

Litter is a blight, there is no justification for it and it has serious social, environmental and economic impacts. We have the luxury of a well-established network of facilities that accept our waste from bins on our streets, to bottle banks and HWRC. The litter problem actually seems worse than when a lot of street bins were removed due to concerns about bombs and terror attacks, and I cannot understand why.

Litter is not only a waste of money it has serious social implications. Nobody wants to live on a dirty street, we don’t want our children to play in rubbish.

Litter appears to lead to more litter and action on wastes from vehicles is welcomed.  Driving along the A14 there is more waste on the side of the road than you’d see at a landfill site, and there hardly seems to be a place that is now litter free.

At a time when local authorities are cash-strapped and there are real issues with vital services, such as adult social care, it is ridiculous that councils are having to use valuable funds to clean up litter (and fly-tipping) – another vital service but one that shouldn’t be necessary.

The Blame Game

I will watch with interest to see how the strategy is implemented, and more importantly perhaps, resourced. There are opportunities to use extended producer responsibility (EPR) to help fund enforcement and awareness activities, but we need to ensure that we make sure the blame lies solely on the shoulders of the person who dropped the litter.

We often hear that it is retailers, fast food outlets or packaging that is to blame, but I would disagree. These organisations put considerable time and effort into clearing up rubbish but cannot control the actions of their customers. We need to ensure that people are aware of the impacts of their activities, not only on the environment but also on them, in the form of fines and penalties. Finding an effective blend of awareness, incentives and penalties will be a challenge. There are some great initiatives from across the sector working on reducing fly-tipping and littering and the Litter Strategy can only help in their valuable work.

Litter is not only a waste of money it has serious social implications. Nobody wants to live on a dirty street, we don’t want our children to play in rubbish. Littering encourages others to replicate poor behaviour and has a serious impact on environmental quality. I have been told by residents how littering led to graffiti, fly-tipping, drug dealing and a general deterioration in the area.

We need more research to find out why people litter, to explore what other waste management activities it is linked to. The link between fly-tipping and bulky waste charges has often been quoted, but with limited evidence. One London borough recently presented information on how it introduced charges for bulky waste and found no impact on fly-tipping.

Wastes management, like society in general, relies on people taking responsibility for their actions and the Litter Strategy is a useful tool in helping us to address this


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