Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has today (10 April) unveiled the Government’s first litter strategy in an effort to reduce the near £800m clean-up costs annually. Under the strategy, litterers could be faced with £150 fines and vehicle owners could receive penalty notices if litter was thrown from their car, even if passengers discarded it.

Responses from businesses and non-profits suggest that public behaviour change towards littering is a key obstacle to overcome, and that heavier fines are a step-forward in that aspect. The Government has been praised for its decision to create a “green generation” by educating children on litter through Eco-Schools programmes.

Commenting on the announcement, charity Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “Educating the next generation is vital if we are to win the war on litter. Our children and young people are the key to making littering a thing of the past.

“Learning about litter and its impacts, as part of their wider environmental education, must be a central pillar of the concerted effort needed to tackle the problem once and for all. The Government’s decision to set up a working group to look at how economic measures could help reduce littering is also a positive step.”

Last month, more than 300,000 people, including children, took part in the charity’s Great British Spring Clean, a volunteering drive to help promote new behaviours and attitudes towards litter.

The strategy also contains outlines to protect marine life from pollution that the Government claims will “build on the success of the 5p plastic bag charge”, which created a 40% decline in the number of single-use plastic bags. However, questions were raised over the omission of a similar charge for paper coffee cups, which have a terrible recycling rate.

A price to pay

Despite the positives of the strategy, some groups are concerned that the Government will be unable to fund the new initiatives, such as targeting the 25 worst litter hotspots across the road network and upgrading council “binfrastructure”.

Clean Up Britain’s founder-director John Read said: “The single most important thing that needs to be done to change the culture of littering in Britain – and make it socially unacceptable – is a sustained national behavioural change campaign.  The government deserves immense credit for committing to this, despite the uncertain nature of its proposed funding.  

“However, the rest of the strategy might be characterised as being timid, and lacking in bold and innovative measures. Britain is drowning in litter and the government has thrown us an ill-fitting and inadequate life-jacket. Litter is costing Councils and local people billions of pounds every year, seriously damaging the environment. It’s a massive self-inflicted own goal, which we must develop a zero-tolerance policy towards.”

Read called on companies such as Wrigley’s, who he claims is responsible for “tens of millions of pounds environmental damage every year”, to make large financial contributions to the strategy. The chewing gum producer has previously worked with Keep Britain Tidy on anti-littering campaigns.

Businesses will be involved in the strategy. The Government will use the strategy as a launchpad for a new national anti-littering campaign in 2018, and will enlist the help of firms such as Coca-Cola European Partners and industry organisations to promote anti-littering values.

“We agree that much more needs to be done to tackle anti-social littering behaviours and we welcome the new approach outlined by Defra in this far-reaching strategy,” a Coca-Cola European Partners spokesperson said.

“All of us – consumers, local authorities, Government and business – have a role to play in improving our environment. Therefore, we are pleased to have been invited to join Defra’s new expert group to provide advice to the Government on issues such as how best to increase the recovery of plastic drinks containers and reduce littering in the process.”

While charities such as Hubbub have introduced numerous behaviour change schemes, including the use of giant coffee cup bins, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) has previously suggested that the private sector should adopt “levies” per product sold in order to generate funds for national litter strategies.

More recently, the Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) launched a new “sustainability checklist” to promote resource efficiency amongst businesses.

INCPEN’s director Jane Bickerstaffe added: “Bottles, cans and wrappers don’t litter themselves but it’s a bad advertisement for a brand to have its name literally in the gutter. That’s why INCPEN supports comprehensive anti-litter campaigns, commissions research and encourages the use of anti-litter messages.”

Matt Mace

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