In recent months, the land abutting my garden (and dozens of other properties) has become a dumping ground for, amongst other things, old office chairs, paint cans, sacks of goodness knows what and a broken bicycle, thoughtfully resting against my fence. For years, I have paid to maintain the self-sewn cherry and sycamore trees and remove other (unsafe) items, because the area has become something of a wildlife reserve, and no-one knew who owned it.
The bicycle, however, was the last straw and I eventually discovered that the land is owned by Taylor Wimpey, so, having been fobbed off by the company, which says it is ‘transferring ownership’, I referred the problem to the council’s enforcement officer.
But, this is far from an isolated problem. Wherever you go, there are empty drink cans, cigarette butts, chewing gum and/or pizza cartons just dropped in parks, play areas, sports facilities, along river banks, roads and in shopping centres. Dumped building materials, much of it hazardous, are also a problem in rural areas, especially. It is infuriating, and community clean-ups cannot be the only solution.
According to a recent Parliamentary report, ‘England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan’. The cost to the taxpayer for clearing all this rubbish is between £717 and £850 million a year. Remember, this is just for England!
In the last year alone, there has been a 20 per cent increase in both fast-food litter, including chewing gum and smoking related items, and fly-tipping.
The report concludes that more needs to be done by both Government and local authorities to address the problem. It suggests a tax on chewing gum, unless the industry takes the initiative to significantly contribute towards the costs of removing it and encouraging its consumers to behave responsibly. It also highlights the fact that, whilst the tobacco industry is keen to reduce cigarette-related litter, some councils will not work with it. Why on earth not?
When it comes to fly-tipping, there were 852,000 reported incidents, but only 2000 convictions in the last year. The bulk is household items, and the report recommends that councils should ‘foster partnerships with charities which are willing to collect such items free of charge’. Much can be recycled (although one of my local charities won’t take any soft furnishings if you have a cat, however good the condition). In the meantime, it suggests that the Government should introduce fixed penalty notices for fly-tipping these goods, whilst increasing the current £80 charge for general litter.
The report rebukes local authorities and the Highways Agency for ‘poor co-ordination’ in clearing fly-tipping on trunk roads, suggesting that the Highways Agency, and Transport for London, take full responsibility. Lorry drivers, often foreign, are allegedly amongst the guilty parties for general litter, because they can get away with it; we’ve all seen missiles emerging from drivers’ windows as we follow them along a motorway, and bottles filled with urine are apparently commonplace.
Surprisingly, there is no national litter strategy for England, with a clear framework for action, underpinned with a co-ordinating role for local authorities; given this lack, perhaps councils should work with the LGA to provide a template, which could be adopted across the country, whilst also pressurising Government to give one minister, at either Defra or DCLG, overall control, instead of departments sharing responsibility as at present, so that enforcement is improved. An award scheme for the best council could also be introduced by the LGA, to encourage action. Maybe the chewing gum or tobacco industries could sponsor it?
Education in schools is essential; young people (especially boys, who are the main offenders) must be made aware of their responsibilities from an early age. Take your rubbish home.
As any music festival organiser will attest, it costs thousands of pounds to clear up after an event, with people even leaving tents and equipment, alongside their other debris, because they can’t be bothered to take it home. Tickets would be cheaper, and festivals consequently more accessible, without this added financial burden.
We need to recognise that, in the same way that graffiti attracts more graffiti if not removed, litter attracts more litter, damaging the environment – including wildlife – and the local economy because litter-strewn streets are unattractive to investors, tourists and customers. Litter contributes to the decline of our High Streets, with neglected, rubbish-strewn, areas leaving people feeling unsafe and attracting more crime. Coastal towns have the added problem of aggressive seagulls targeting leftover food – and anyone trying to stop them.
Charles Clover of the Sunday Times took up the cause a while go, and, he says, his mailbag ‘contained a nationwide howl of frustration…litter matters to people’. His latest article points to research by a charity, Hubbub, which states that 86 per cent of people believe that dropping stuff is a disgusting habit. Some would also say that eating/drinking in the street is a disgusting habit.
Hubbub confirms that ‘people want behaviour change, to make littering as socially unacceptable as drink driving’. Amen to that.
In a bid to find solutions, the charity has launched a trial in Villiers Street, by Charing Cross station, which includes talking bins, interactive chewing gum art installations and posters promoting pride in the street, as well as eight litter collections a day (two sponsored by local businesses).
Councils should get in touch to evaluate progress; a few talking bins in town centres would certainly increase awareness of the need for responsible litter disposal. Retailers and restaurateurs would undoubtedly support the initiative.
Charles Clover suggests a competition for a slogan to ‘put litter back in the bin’. Local authorities could adopt this idea, themselves, quickly and easily, with local media support and as part of an integrated school education programme. Shortlisted ideas could then be put to Liz Truss, Environment Secretary, for her final judgment, maximising publicity for a sustained campaign.
Just do it. Please. This is what people want. We’re fed up with litter, the selfish people who drop it everywhere, and the cost of removing it. Taxpayers’ money could be better spent.