Trewin Restorick, CEO and founder of Hubbub, an organisation committed to changing the way environmental message are communicated to the public, explains how it, and many more organisations, are turning violent agreement into concerted action on litter
There is almost universal agreement that litter is a bad thing. Nobody wants to live in a street strewn with chewing gum, cigarette butts and discarded fast food debris. The £1bn spent clearing up our streets is a waste of much needed public money and time. Yet the problem is not getting any better and, in some areas, such as fly-tipping and fast food litter, it is getting worse. Why?
Despite violent agreement that something needs to be done, there is no concerted national plan to deal with litter in England. Locally there are wonderful examples of successful schemes, usually run by highly committed volunteer groups, but there is no way of effectively sharing what has and hasn’t worked. As a result, these schemes are like firework displays burning brightly for a short period of time and then disappearing.
There are a myriad of charities all addressing the problem in a slightly different way, and often in competition with each other. Many of these groups are coping with massive cuts to funding from government, which can mean financial survival overrides other imperatives.
Despite violent agreement that something needs to be done, there is no concerted national plan to deal with litter
Companies are incredibly wary of putting their name to litter campaigns, as it can associate their brand with a problem that provokes a passionate response from customers. They are also justifiably confused as where best to provide support, being deluged by a range of charities each claiming to have the best solution to the problem.
Finally, there is no leadership from either central or local government. Westminster is playing a game of pass the parcel between Defra and DCLG, with the one common refrain from both being that “their aint no cash,” whilst local government is facing significant cuts to budgets and is in no position to invest heavily in anything other than basic services.
To create a cleaner environment things need to change, and there is now a ray of hope. Over the past three months a coalition of unusual bedfellows has been gradually coming together to create a more concerted response to the problem of litter. The first step was to support a national litter manifesto, which was a simple set of five points setting out what organisations and people could do to cut litter. The manifesto is a bit “apple pie and cream”, being hard to disagree with, but it did act as a central point around which organisations could coalesce and reach agreement.
From this simple starting point, however, the conversation has evolved, starting to scratch the surface of more fundamental issues. The first is the need for all governments to step up to the plate and provide the leadership and direction needed to raise litter up the agenda. The coalition of groups has written to ministers calling on the UK Government to set up an advisory committee on littering. This call was backed by over 20 organisations representing voluntary organisations, companies and trade bodies. It is a real indication that there is a desire to act collaboratively for the greater good, putting aside petty politics and minor differences.
Secondly, the wide range of charities has agreed to come together to explore how they can work collaboratively, building on their strengths to provide a more coordinated national response.
There is a still long way to go, and there are potentially some major stumbling blocks to be overcome but, for the first time in many years, there is the opportunity for the UK to create a cost-effective approach to deal with a problem that is the scourge of many local communities.