A Clean Sweep: Rethinking the way to tackle litter

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:

Further to the report on litter published last week by the Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee, environmental consultant, Eunomia has responded with its own report on how to tackle the problem.

Eunomia has published a new report, A Clean Sweep, which sets out a series of measures to help prevent litter. The report focuses on using financial and other incentives to deter littering behaviour and encourage product innovation to make commonly littered items less problematic.

"There is a growing evidence base regarding the negative impacts of litter. England's current approach to dealing with litter places the burden on local authorities to take enforcement action and to clean up after the fact. It gives too little focus to the question of how littering can be systematically deterred and prevented," said a Eunomia spokesperson.

According to the environmental consultancy, the Commons CLG Committee's recent report Litter and Flytipping in England makes some sensible recommendations regarding the enforcement of flytipping, such as stiffer fines and providing powers to seize vehicles that have been involved in this crime. However, the environmental consultants said it does not go far enough in shifting the burden of litter so that it is the polluters who pay - and who therefore take the lead in reducing the problem. "Nor does the committee suggest measures that might help prevent litter directly, rather than addressing who picks up the cost of collecting it," added Eunomia's representative.

Measures proposed in A Clean Sweep include:

- Levies on chewing gum and cigarettes to ensure that clean-up costs are borne by the users of these products rather than the public at large. The levy would be reduced if monitoring revealed a decline in the littering of these items.

- Extension of the proposed charge on single use carrier bags in England to remove the exemptions for biodegradable or paper bags.

- A similar charge on all single use cups, such as coffee cups, to encourage uptake of reusable cups.

- A deposit refund scheme on beverage containers such as bottles and cans to incentivise their responsible disposal.

- Establishing networks of water fountains in town centres to reduce the need for people to buy bottled and canned drinks.

- Greater use of existing local authority powers to include appropriate litter-prevention measures within the license conditions of traders such as pubs and clubs, sellers of late night food, event organisers and drink and street traders.

Eunomia said the measures advocated in the report would bring about improved environmental outcomes at a lower overall cost than simply cleaning up after litter has been dropped.

"They would refocus the costs of cleaning up litter away from the general council tax payer, and on to the users of frequently littered items," suggested the consultant's representative before adding: "Some could be implemented by local councils under current powers, but the majority would require new government legislation. We believe that all of these measures merit inclusion in any strategy that truly aims to tackle litter."

Manufacturers of frequently littered items reportedly argue that charges and levies are unfair because they penalise all users of their products, whether they litter or not.

Alex West, of Wrigley's told the CLG Committee that a levy "unfairly impacts those who do the right thing, which is the majority of people."

However, absorbing the cost of litter in general taxation is even more unfair, continued Eunomia, as it requires people who never chew gum or smoke cigarettes to pay to clean up mess to which they could not possibly have contributed.

"It is therefore unfortunate that the CLG Committee, while calling for chewing gum and tobacco manufacturers to do more to do more to help tackle the problem, decided not to advocate any additional levy or charge on frequently littered items," stated Eunomia's spokesperson. "Properly designed, such a levy would be the most promising way to encourage innovation and education to help reduce the litter impacts of these products. The benefits of a reduction in littering would be shared across society, by all those who would rather see our town centres and open spaces free from the bags, butts, burger boxes and bottles that blight them."

Lead author, Chris Sherrington, said: "The CLG Committee is right to call for a national litter strategy for England, but the measures they recommend fall well short of what is needed to deliver a real change. That will only come when we shift the burden of financial responsibility towards those responsible for creating the problem, as they are the ones best placed to prevent it."

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