Ormskirk in West Lancashire, Braintree in Essex and Camden in London were all featured on the programme. The programme highlighted their proactive approaches to litter, an issue that is costing local authorities £1bn a year to clean up, according to Keep Britain Tidy.

However, each took a very different approach.

The documentary showed presenter Joan Bakewell following a litter patrol team in Ormskirk, where a “softly-softly approach” is in place to warn people to stop dropping litter.

West Lancashire Borough Council environment officer Sharron Cranny said: “If we see anyone drop litter then we can give them a fixed penalty notice but we do try and educate them first.”

Braintree District Council in contrast, takes a much harder line. Launched three years ago the council’s litter prevention initiative, called the ‘Green Heart Scheme’, was described by Councillor Wendy Schmitt as “tough”. For example, Schmitt said that it had taken a member of public to court for dropping a cigarette butt. That person was issued with a fine for £717.50.

During the programme, environment officer Stuart Thompson was shown issuing a fixed penalty fine, worth £75, to a man who had dropped a cigarette butt. He said: “He wasn’t happy. They never are happy when they get a fine but if they commit an offence that is what they get.”

Camden council and Keep Britain Tidy carried out an experiment for Panorama to demonstrate what happens if local council teams stop cleaning the streets.

For 24 hours one side of a street was cleaned as normal while the other side was left uncleaned for 24 hours.

Within ten hours one side of the street was overflowing, with people opting to throw their rubbish on the ground instead of simply crossing the road to put it in an empty bin.

On the problem of litter, Bakewell said: “Councils come in for a good deal of the blame, and people seem happy to hold them responsible for the mess. But they can only do so much.”

BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said that he believed that companies also needed to take more responsibility for rubbish because it is a “reputational issue” for their brand.

He said: “There is a reputational issue here because every time somebody walks down the street and sees a McDonalds wrapper, a Coca-Cola bottle … a chewing gum company wrapper, they think of that company, that’s not the way you want to be thought of.”

However, Incpen director Jane Bickerstaffe said that the big brands spend a lot of money helping the public to tackle the litter problem. For example, she said they spend money putting the litter prevention logo on their packs hoping “people will take personal responsibility for disposing of their packaging responsibly.”

Liz Gyekye

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie