Litter is about laziness, not about packaging

Although packaging is not the biggest litter problem, industry leaders are campaigning to clean up Britain’s streets, says Jane Bickerstaffe, director at INCPEN

Litter is not an environmental issue. It is the result of irresponsible or careless behaviour. But there is a growing trend for it to be described as an environmental problem and for policy-makers to respond by imposing restrictions or charges on some items that are sometimes littered. That would only work if all items that have the potential to be littered were targeted.  That would be completely impossible.

Some people think litter and packaging are synonymous, but statistically packaging is not the largest component. However, by its nature packaging catches the eye and is remembered. It is also a bad advertisement for a company if its brand ends up in a gutter.

It is, therefore, an important issue for INCPEN (Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment) and its members, and while manufacturers and retailers are not responsible for it, like the majority of people, they want a clean, safe environment.

Some people think litter and packaging are synonymous, but statistically packaging is not the largest component

INCPEN has supported campaigns against littering for many years, has been a member and supporter of Keep Britain Tidy since the 1970s and has commissioned research to understand the issue better.

Campaigning against litter

Hard evidence about litter is limited because it is not easy to measure. A count of the number of littered items typically shows that cigarette ends and chewing gum are the two most frequently littered items, together making up as much as 80 per cent, but they tend to accumulate because they are the most difficult, and expensive, to clear up.

In the most recent survey, done in 2014 by Keep Britain Tidy for INCPEN, cigarette ends accounted for 30 per cent of all litter, chewing gum 24 per cent, drinks containers 7 per cent, food packaging 15 per cent, tissues 1.4 per cent, supermarket carrier bags 0.2 per cent, other bags 0.5 per cent and till receipts 0.8 per cent.

There is substantial evidence that all litter needs to be tackled because litter breeds litter. Removing just some of it does not solve the problem. The solution is a three-pronged approach – education to prevent littering, enforcement of laws, and provision of infrastructure and cleaning services to remove it.

That’s why we are supporting the Neat Streets campaign in London’s Villiers Street. It is a social experiment, running for six months to test the best methods from around the world to stop littering. One of the most effective installations to date is a cigarette voting ashtray. It is a bin with two separate compartments. People choose which one to use depending on their answer to a question about sport, such as who will win the rugby world cup. Each week a new question is asked so it stays topical.

Neat Streets is supported by a wide range of organisations and companies that are also calling on government to take a lead on a national anti-litter plan which will involve all the campaign bodies, all stakeholders and tackle all litter.

A short video is being used to persuade people to bin all litter because even a little bit of litter leads to more. Litter breeds litter.

Recycling has received a huge amount of attention. Businesses have done much to support it and the UK is now among the leaders in recycling in Europe. We now need to work with others to make the UK clean and litter free.

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