Litter patrol

Councillor Sir Ron Watson, chair of the LGA's environment and regeneration executive, looks at co-operation on litter between councils and restaurant chains

Many town and city dwellers will be familiar with the discarded chicken bones, empty drinks cans and greasy wrappers which
seem to be a ubiquitous feature of today’s urban streets.

There has been a 12% boom in fast food litter across England in the last year, and public concern over the state of our streets, estates and open spaces is at an all-time high, with the quality of the local environment consistently topping residents’ polls. A run-down appearance can increase the fear of crime in an area, hamper economic regeneration and result in local people losing pride in where they live.

However, a host of local councils are running demonstrator projects to test new ideas and ways of working, whether it be getting to grips with the sticky problem of chewing gum or teaming up with fast food outlets to tackle litter.

An innovative partnership

The LGA has set up an innovative partnership arrangement with McDonalds restaurants to tackle fast food litter. Working in three pilot areas – Sheffield, Maidstone and Taunton Deane – McDonalds and the local authorities are developing new ways to clear up and prevent fast food litter.

The experience of all three trials will help to inform the Voluntary Code of Practice for Fast Food Litter, due to be launched by DEFRA at the end of the year. The code will involve an agreement to carry out litter patrols and co-ordinate litter picking teams with the council, provide or sponsor litter bins, clean shop fronts, keep packaging to a minimum and display anti-littering messages.

In Taunton Deane, there is a strong push to clean up the town centre – particularly litter dropped by late-night revellers and around the local drive-through restaurant. Taunton Deane Borough Council has got together with McDonalds, Taunton Town Centre Partnership and the police to co-ordinate litter patrols and undertake education and awareness-raising initiatives. The next phase will begin in September with a clean-up blitz involving local schools. Discussions have also been held with other major take-away businesses to persuade them to get on board.

In Maidstone, the council commissioned charity EnCams to design a litter survey to help pinpoint litter hot spots and highlight which outlets generate the most rubbish. The project has already expanded to include KFC and Burger King, with all three chains working with both the council and each other to co-ordinate regular litter picking teams.

More recently the project has been concentrating on the awareness-raising aspects of the forthcoming code, with anti-litter messages displayed on McDonalds tray liners and Happy Meals. The partnership has also produced Keep Maidstone Tidy window stickers for businesses in the town centre and stickers for display on litter bins.

A marked effect on cleanliness

The project led by Sheffield City Council, which involves eight McDonalds outlets, is also having a marked effect on the cleanliness of the town centre. The council undertook surveys within a 100m radius of all McDonalds restaurants to identify hot spots that were then used as the basis of a co-ordinated litter picking effort. The partnership is now working to compile a reference manual of litter routes and schedules which both parties can work to.

Before the partnership agreement got off the ground, each McDonalds store separately organised their own clean-up activity. In June, this activity was brought together with employees from all eight McDonalds stores working together to blitz litter on one site. The day boosted interest from other businesses and led to widespread local media coverage.

The public clearly wants stronger action on environmental crimes such as littering. The success stories created by the McDonalds/local authority pilot projects show that even the simplest of solutions can help to turn the rising tide of waste and create cleaner, safer and sustainable communities.

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