Jeremy Paxman issues rallying call for businesses to “win the war on litter”

Veteran BBC interrogator Jeremy Paxman has said he is "sick to the back teeth" of Britain's rising litter problem and is calling on businesses to take the initiative and collaborate for a mass behaviour change campaign to curb the issue.

Speaking at the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) Environment Seminar in Birmingham today, Paxman used his status as Patron of Clean Up Britain – the campaign organisation dedicated to changing Britain’s attitude to litter – to implore major brands to change the way the public interacts with waste packaging.

And the former BBC Newsnight presenter believes that the only way to drive significant nationwide behaviour change on littering is through industry collaboration.

“Litter is the sort of advertising that nobody wants,” Paxman said. “If the sides of the roads are littered with rubbish baring your logo, then you have got a problem.

“What we need to do most of all is to change the way people behave. Businesses have to make dumping litter socially unacceptable in the same way that drink driving now is. It is increasingly clear that the only way for us to win the war on litter is for all of us to come together in a far more integrated way.

“We need a coordinated, collaborative initiative involving environment boards and companies, trade unions and the private sector. I don’t think the Government will help, they’ve already failed us.”

‘On the bandwagon’

Paxman noted that the amount of litter in the UK had increased by around 500% over the past 50 years, and last year alone, local authorities across the UK spent more than £1bn on removing litter from our streets.

Paxman called on the private sector to fund behavioural change campaigns that will not only reduce public littering, but “will get Government to jump on the bandwagon of a successful collaborative initiative”.

Also speaking at today’s FPA Seminar was Trewin Restorick, founder of behaviour change charity Hubbub. Restorick believes Britain’s litter has become “a classic behaviour change problem that needs radicalising in order to make it relevant”.

Restorick noted a number of Hubbub initiatives that have temporarily changed the public’s immediate attitudes to litter. He pointed to Villiers Street in London – a “melting pot of disaster” when it comes to waste. Last year, Hubbub trialled a number of innovative behaviour change campaigns along Villiers Street – including ‘voting ashtrays’ – to raise awareness of the problem, which resulted in a 26% reduction in litter.

The success of Hubbub’s trials was soon followed by the recent addition of two big businesses – Lucozade and McDonald’s – to the behaviour change efforts in the form of a national ‘litter manifesto’. But it is important to note that the corporate edge of this manifesto only came about after Hubbub’s initial behaviour change trials had proven successful – an issue which Restorick believes highlights a stumbling block when tackling the issue.

“Companies are reluctant to raise their heads above the rest because it adds extra scrutiny,” Restorick said. “The current sharing of best practices to tackle litter problems is diabolical, and the lack of communication is hurting the development.”

Silver bullet

Innovative approaches to raising awareness and changing behaviours in regards to litter has also been seen in Scotland of late, with environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful taking to social media for a series of campaigns that have received backing from the likes of BT, McDonald’s, Tesco, Coca-Cola and Irn Bru – which changed its logo for the first time in more than 100 years to promote litter reduction across the country.

Today’s speakers at the FPA Seminar all agreed there is no ‘silver bullet’ in tackling this issue of litter on Britain’s streets, but all unanimously agreed that the private sector should be driving positive change.

And if the stern aesthetic of central government makes it harder for policymakers to indorse the more jovial behaviour change schemes that have proven so successful for KSB and Hubbub, then – as Paxman claims – the answer ultimately lies in the private sector.

Matt Mace

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