Fighting litter with community spirit

Eight local authorities have signed up to Keep Britain Tidy's latest campaign, which aims to reduce litter on the street. Stuart Spear reports

One of the few positive images to emerge from the riots that took place over the summer was residents volunteering to clear up their devastated high streets. The image of people coming together, brooms in hand, provided a much needed antidote to the violence.

The potential for communities to pull together in adversity is something that the campaign group Keep Britain Tidy hopes to tap into with the launch of its new ‘Love where you live’ campaign aimed at local authorities, communities, schools and businesses.

Launched in early September and combined with a national advertising campaign, the idea is to get local people to recognise what they love about their local communities and to use social media along with existing social networks to link up with like-minded people willing to clean-up parks, estates or a canal walk.

The campaign aims to get three million people and 3,000 organisations helping to reduce the amount of litter on our streets through group litter picks and by raising awareness around the anti-social cost of littering. It is estimated that over 30m tonnes of litter is collected from England’s streets every year, costing council tax payers £858m annually.

Pre-dating David Cameron’s Big Society, ‘Love where you live’ was first conceived of in 2009 when Hilary Benn, then Secretary of State for Environment, brought big businesses, charities and government together to tackle the problem. In addition to Keep Britain Tidy, the campaign’s founding partners are the Wrigley Company, Imperial Tobacco, McDonald’s and Defra.

Eight local authorities have so far signed up as ambassador authorities, and through advertising and events are promoting the campaign to local community groups and residents as well as providing practical support for group litter picks. The first council to sign up was Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council. Phil Beddoes is the council’s head of waste and street scene services and was at the original Defra meeting where the campaign was conceived.

“This is about community spirit and people saying they want to play a part in where they live,” explains Beddoes. “Environment is important to people and in our recent launch we had about 50 community groups remove so many bags of litter and beds and so on but the joyful thing was hearing people say how good it was to get together and do something… while litter is the focus it is also about community development.”

Over the past month the local authority has supported around 50 litter picking events. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council is another of the ambassador councils organising litter picks, working with schools and linking up with businesses, the local chamber of commerce and colleges to raise awareness.

Doncaster is known for strong enforcement of environmental crime and is one of the few local authorities to adopt a zero tolerance approach, offering children caught littering the option of weekend litter picking or a fixed penalty notice.

“Love where you live is a softer approach; it fits in with the idea of people having personal responsibility. I want people to love Doncaster and look after their part of it,” says councillor Cynthia Ransome, cabinet member for communities. “The council’s job is to inspire individuals, business groups and organisations to think about the community and take a personal responsibility for the local environment. Because they have seen people getting fixed penalty notices they want to be part of something that is succeeding.”

The local authority plans to get 14,000 people involved and 150 organisations over the next three years. According to Fiona Ashurst, spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy, the initiative is unlike other littering campaigns in that it aims to run for the next three years and so build momentum where others have been short term.

“The campaign is about everyone working together, individuals, councils and businesses with everyone having a role to play,” she says.

Stuart Spear is a freelance journalist

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