I recently read that the Keep Britain Tidy group has suggested on-the-spot fines of £1000 for illegal fly-tipping which is costing the country around £1 billion a year to clean up. Good weather and holidays bring with them an increase in litter everywhere, from beaches to pavements and parks. No area is immune! Maybe huge fines are indeed the answer??
One of our regular contributors, Catherine, has more thoughts on the subject of litter:
On 10th March the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee published its report on litter and fly tipping in England; this was the seventh report of session 2014-15. The Committee’s earlier deliberations were previously considered in the blog here.
The report begins:
England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan. Levels of litter in England have hardly improved in the past 12 years and the best estimates are that litter costs the taxpayer between £717 and £850 million a year to clear up. Change is needed.
The report contains some very useful, and horrifying, facts, and estimations of the cost of litter.
It notes and recommends:
- There has been a 20% increase in fast-food litter in the last year. The Government should bring forward legislation requiring all shops, restaurants and retail food outlets to keep the perimeters of their premises free from litter
- The most frequently littered items are chewing gum and smokers’ materials.
- Chewing gum and staining are difficult and costly to remove. We recommend that our successor committee revisit this issue in one year unless it sees the industry making a much larger contribution to the costs of removing gum and staining and also encouraging its consumers to change their behaviour and achieving a significant reduction in litter. In this regard it should have larger notices about not littering on all its packaging, wrappers and adverts.
- The tobacco industry is keen to reduce the incidence of cigarette-related litter. The tobacco industry itself must also do more. It should provide, free at the point of sale, portable ashtrays or ‘mini bins’ for the disposal of cigarette-related litter. The Government should ensure that a portion of any increase in tobacco levies is allocated to local councils to help pay for the cost street cleaning; and all public buildings must install receptacles for disposing of cigarette-related litter in those areas where staff congregate to smoke. Again, the installation of receptacles must not be seen as endorsement of smoking or the tobacco industry.
- Levels of fly-tipping increased by 20% in the last year. The Government should introduce a fixed penalty notice for fly-tipping for household items—the bulk of the incidents—and the industry must introduce a scheme to take away unwanted household appliances and furniture when replacements are delivered. Councils should foster partnerships with charities who are willing to collect such items free of charge.
- In the end it is individuals who litter and fly-tip their unwanted goods, and it is this behaviour which needs to change. We support a variety of behaviour-changing activities and campaigns to prevent littering. The Government must also assess whether the fixed penalty notice for litter should be increased from its current £80 maximum.
- We support the introduction of a community clean-up day on 21 March. This should become an annual event.
In its consideration of behaviour change, it posits:
CleanupUK told us about “nudging ideas” which aimed to get people to think about litter in subtle ways, and made it “cool” for teenagers to put litter in the bin. To encourage younger children George Monck, Chief Executive, CleanupUK, gave the example of a bin which said ‘thank you’ or burped, when litter was dropped in it. Others have suggested a return to a system of monetary deposits for bottles and cans as an incentive for not littering.
The Committee urges coordinated government action:
The failure to make a noticeable improvement in litter levels in the last 12 years points to a lack of vigour, if not complacency, within Government over the past decade. There is a division of responsibilities between departments which, as it currently operates, creates problems for industry and volunteer groups and has neither reduced litter levels nor stopped the rise in fly-tipping. We recommend that the Government create a national litter strategy for England with a clear framework for action. This must be underpinned with a coordinating role for local councils within their respective areas.
A thoughtful and lucid report, but it will be interesting to see how more and increased fixed penalty notices can be issued at a time of severe cuts to police services. It is difficult too, to see how fly tipping can be avoided by the removal of unwanted large items “free of charge”; which bodies, charitable or otherwise, can bear this cost?. Many measures have large pound signs hanging over them, even the “burping” bins.
The idea of the virement of tobacco taxes is not a new one, having been tried in the 1990s in Australia. In the UK, the HMRC is generally unenthusiastic about hypothecated taxes. The report is rather vague about the behavioural change needed to stop littering behaviour, and how and by whom this could be achieved. Presumably it would require concerted, sustained effort and would not be cost-free.
Bottle deposit schemes were advocated by Bill Bryson some years ago, when it was pointed out that plastic bottles are now so cheap to make as to make a deposit/return infrastructure expensive and impractical. DEFRA has apparently looked into such a proposal, but taken no action. Voluntary schemes, whilst very helpful, have not solved the problem so far. Read the full report at:
Perhaps coincidentally, the Marine Conservation Society have also issued a report, describing a September 2014 beach clean where the detritus collected was analysed. 5,349 volunteers cleaned and surveyed 301 beaches collecting 2,457 bits of litter per kilometre. 101 types of litter were recorded. The prevalence of “wet wipes” was particularly noticed; an average of 35 was found for each kilometre of beach. These wipes contain plastic and do not biodegrade easily.
This report can be read at:
These findings echo many of the points made in an October 2014 report from the chillingly named Surfers Against Sewage. This study has been issued as part of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, a piece of EU legislation supporting the protection and sustainable use of the seas. Read their report at: http://www.sas.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/SAS-Marine-Litter-Report-Med.pdf
The surfers write well; their report is braced with a sense of urgency. “Tackling this marine litter crisis: if not us, who? If not now, when?”
“La ilusión no se come”, dijo ella. “No se come, pero alimenta”, replicó el coronel.”