Features: December 21st, 2017

The government launched its first ever anti-littering strategy for England in April. Patience Atkinson-Gregory of litter bin manufacturers Amberol (www.amberol.co.uk) explains how the new strategy could affect councils around the country and offers advice on reducing levels of litter.

It is estimated that 62% of people in England drop litter. Although these figures are alarmingly high, statistics show that 90% of sites in England are deemed by the government to have an acceptable level of litter. So why the disparity between the amount of litter dropped and the apparent cleanliness of our streets? I’d suggest that it is largely down to the significant amount of money that is spent dealing with the problem. The key question is: how sustainable is this as a long-term solution?

According to Keep Britain Tidy, the annual cost of clearing up England’s litter is a staggering £800 million. What’s more, littering levels have shown minimal improvement over the past decade despite efforts from councils and local authorities to educate people and promote responsible litter disposal.

Creating a strategy for England

In an effort to tackle the issue and create an anti-litter culture, the government has developed England’s first ever National Litter Strategy. The strategy is based on three themes: education, enforcement and infrastructure. The common aim of all three is to change the behaviour of those who deem it acceptable to drop litter.

Under the new measures, the most serious litterers could be hit with £150 fines. The strategy is also targeting waste disposed of when on the road with vehicle owners receiving penalty notices when it is proven that litter was thrown from their car, even if it was discarded by a passenger.

Aside from the new financial penalties for offenders, the strategy involves creating a better cleaning and litter infrastructure and educating the public to change behaviours. In order to help achieve this, the measures drawn up by the environment, transport and communities departments include:

• Recommending that offenders on community sentences (including people caught fly-tipping), help councils clear up litter and fly-tipped waste.
• Working with Highways England to target the 25 worst litter hotspots across our road network.
• Creating a “green generation” by educating children to lead the fight against litter through an increased number of Eco-Schools and boosting participation in national clean-up days.

How the strategy might impact councils

There are two main areas of the strategy that will affect local councils: enforcement and infrastructure.

Although rarely executed, local authorities can already hand out fines for those they see dropping litter. The strategy proposes raising littering penalties from £50 £80, to a maximum penalty of £150. There will be new regulations to help councils tackle littering from vehicles and the government is also aiming to raise awareness amongst councils and magistrates around the range of sanctions available to tackle littering and fly-tipping.

Tackling litter on the streets

In terms of improving infrastructure, research into littering behaviours shows that around one in four litterers blame their behaviour on a lack of bins. There is also evidence that littering rates increase the further people are from a bin. In an effort to tackle this, from 2019 the government will begin to provide councils with guidance on “binfrastructure”; the design, number and location of public litter bins and other items of street furniture designed to capture litter.

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to reducing litter, but having a national strategy will at least help create a sense of consistency and reinforce messages around littering. The most effective solution is really a mixture of the measures mentioned in the new littering strategy: a campaign of education, enforcement and investment in the right tools for the job.

Less litter on the streets helps the environment, local economy, tourism, health as well as enabling residents to develop a sense of pride in the area that they live in. Everybody wins. Based on almost 50 years of experience working with councils developing bins to improve waste collection, these are some ways that councils can tackle the litter issue in their area:

Partnering with business owners – Councils can liaise with business owners, especially those with outdoor seating i.e. restaurant, cafés and bars, to support them in reducing their contribution to the local litter problem. Smaller bins and ashtrays should be placed at entrances and exits to prevent any litter coming from them. Councils should start liaising with those most culpable first.

Community awards – Schemes that reward communities for improving the cleanliness of their area can create healthy competition, leading to wide scale improvements. Personalised incentive schemes give councils the chance to prioritise a specific area that may be a problem for them.

Give the public a push in the right direction – Sometimes all the public needs is a nudge. Examples of this could be footsteps painted on the floor leading towards a bin or making it fun by painting a hopscotch board leading to a bin. We have found that our animal bins encourage young people to dispose of waste responsibly. Our talking bins are particularly popular and have really helped to reduce littering in public places across the UK and beyond.

Investing in the right equipment – Something as simple as investing in the right products can help a council to meet and exceed their ‘on the street’ littering targets. Choosing the right litter bin is critical, but there’s really no one size fits all approach. Different sizes and styles of bin will be suitable for different locations and purposes. However, there are some factors worth considering when purchasing new litter bins for your park, high street or public spaces.

• The aperture size of the bin needs to be large enough for litter to be deposited but small enough to prevent rubbish escaping due to weather conditions or vandalism.
• Where is litter most prominent in your area? It is best to target these litter hotspots, especially if resources are limited.
• How much space is available for a bin? They come in many different shapes and sizes so do your research to find the right bin for the right location.
• Can the public spot the bin easily? Bins don’t have to be black or grey – there are more vibrant colours to really make them stand out.
• Make sure signage is clear and informative. What can be deposited in the bin? Is it for recyclables and if so, what?
• Consistency – develop branding and an identity for your bins through the use of consistent colour, style and signage. This will make them easier to spot and more likely to be used.
• And finally, while the above will all help, without an adequate number of bins in the right locations, it will be difficult to see a noticeable change in behaviour.

The Littering Strategy is a step in the right direction but local councils don’t need to wait for the government to change regulations and implement schemes. Councils can make changes to help their local area now – that’s one of the reasons why some areas of the country have less littering than others; they take action and make improvements. Hopefully the Litter Strategy will then provide a useful structure to support any new initiatives – which can only be good for everyone.

About the author

Patience Atkinson-Gregory is MD of Amberol (www.amberol.co.uk). Amberol supply local government, education and commercial sectors with a range of litter bins as well as self-watering planters for communal spaces.