5.Litter affects us all. As one contributor said: “You don’t have to go very far anywhere in the UK to see litter”.5 Every year since 2001/02, the charity Keep Britain Tidy has carried out a survey of levels of litter across England. This Local Environmental Quality Survey of England (LEQSE), assigns a score to the local environmental quality of an area. The 2013/14 LEQSE survey assessed 7,200 sites in 45 English council areas between April 2013 and March 2014.6 It looked at seven indicators of cleanliness: litter, detritus, weed growth, staining, graffiti, fly-posting and recent leaf and blossom fall.
6.According to the latest survey, 89% of sites across England are at or above an acceptable standard, meaning they are “predominantly free with some minor instances of the issue”.7 This represents a 4% improvement since the survey started in 2001/02 but, while litter levels across England have not deteriorated over the last 12 years, there has been no significant improvement across the period. Or, as noted by Samantha Harding from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), “we are possibly just containing the litter problem”.8 The 2013/14 survey included a regional breakdown of results, which showed that there was only marginal variation between the regions.9 We have been told that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will no longer fund Keep Britain Tidy from April 2015. As a result there are some doubts about whether the survey will continue.10
7.The methodology used in the survey was questioned. Samantha Harding from the CPRE said that, while the LEQSE captured the incidence of particular types of litter, it did not take into account “some of the inherent dangers, for example of having a glass bottle rather than a cigarette butt”.11 In addition, it did not register whether there was one glass bottle in a particular area or 50, it simply counted the fact that glass bottles were present.12 In comparison a separate study carried out by Keep Britain Tidy for the Industry Council on Research and Packaging for the Environment (INCPEN) counts the number of pieces of a particular type of litter in an area.13 However, Ms Harding said this methodology was not unproblematic either since, in counting the incidence of particular types of litter, it assumed 50 small items of litter (for example, cigarette butts) were equivalent to 50 larger pieces (for example empty take-away boxes).14 INCPEN acknowledged that there were problems measuring litter and told us that better data was needed:
You look at it from different people’s perspectives. From a council perspective they want to understand the cost of having to clear it up […] something that is huge that they can easily pick up is not a problem for them, but they have problems with chewing gum and cigarette ends, which are tiny and often stuck in cobbled streets and things like that. […] You also need some assessment of how many people have gone littering. […] We do not know the answer of how it should be measured, but we think there should be lots of different measures to give us as much information as possible.15
8.Others said that it would be more useful to see a local breakdown of litter levels. Ms Harding pointed to the large amount of carrier-bag litter on rural roads,16 while Sean Lawson, from Warwickshire Waste Partnership, said there were problems “in areas where you have high turnover in terms of transit populations, perhaps new and emerging communities coming in and moving through”.17
9.We consider that more and better data on litter are essential. We have a litter problem in England and we need to know if it is deteriorating or improving. The LEQSE survey provides a useful snapshot of the incidence of litter across England in a given year as well as annual trends. It should be continued to inform policy making. In future years, it would be more useful if a national survey counted the number of examples of each type of litter, to enable better assessment of the cost of clearing litter. In addition, there should be some assessment of population densities and how they relate to litter to help local councils to more accurately target their litter collection activities.
10.It is difficult to identify accurately the cost of clearing litter. First, many different organisations are responsible for collecting litter: including local councils, National Parks Authorities and the Highways Agency. Second, it is not straightforward to disaggregate the cost of clearing litter from other costs such as street cleaning which takes place whether or not litter is present.18
11.Estimates therefore vary. On the one hand, Keep Britain Tidy estimated that “public sector land managers spend over £850m each year keeping our streets, parks and public spaces clean and tidy and improving local environmental quality,”19 and that costs had been declining in the last two or three years.20 On the other hand, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Kris Hopkins MP, said, “I do not think [Keep Britain Tidy’s] figures are quite right.”21 According to the Government’s statistics, local authorities were budgeted to spend only £717 million in 2013/14 on street cleansing, which encompasses much more than collecting litter, but excludes the costs associated with cleaning parks and green spaces; as well as the costs of other public bodies such as the Highways Agency; and the costs to private land managers across England.22
12.Because of the number of different bodies which collect litter and because the collection of litter is often part of other activities such as street cleaning, it is difficult to get a precise figure for litter collection costs. Nevertheless is it clear that the best estimate costs—from £717 to £850 million—represent significant expenditure by local authorities.
13.The 2013/14 LEQSE states that more deprived areas suffer from higher levels of litter. The survey notes that the percentage of sites recorded as unacceptable—a grade C or D—increases from 3% in the least deprived to 28% in the most deprived areas. The survey makes a link between levels of litter and levels of crime: “litter shows the most pronounced correlation with increasing crime risk as levels of litter also increase (and cleanliness standards decline)”.23 In the foreword to the survey, the Government said: “the evidence shows that poor levels of local environmental quality are associated with increases in other low-level crime and social disorder, further compounding problems for the local community.”24 Keep Britain Tidy estimates that there is an indirect cost of £348 million for crime “associated with litter”.25
14.We asked a number of witnesses about the link between environmental quality, social cohesion and crime. David Sedaris, author and broadcaster, commented:
Why do I think there is more litter in deprived areas? I don’t know. To tell you the truth, there is a Waitrose not far from me. I found one Waitrose bag last year. There is a Tesco Metro, which I think of as a litter supply store, not far away and I find Tesco bags all the time. I don’t find containers that nuts came in. It is fast-food. It is crisps. It is candy bars.26
Sean Lawson, Head of Environmental Services at Rugby Borough Council said that “we often do not associate [litter] widely enough in terms of the impact it has on social cohesion and the economic vitality of the areas. We think, ‘It is just litter.’ We really do need to shift how we think about litter.”27
15.Commenting on the debate. Mr Hopkins said, “I do not believe that people who live in poorer areas are more inclined to drop litter or want to live in a dirty place.”28 Dan Rogerson MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Defra, said: “you need to be very careful about drawing conclusions about two things that might coincide, in some cases, but do not necessarily have that sort of causal relationship.”29 He added that everyone wanted to live in a clean neighbourhood.30
16.We agree with Mr Rogerson. This is an area where better evidence is needed before links can be established. The point was brought home to us by the claims made by Keep Britain Tidy which estimated that litter leads indirectly to mental health costs of £526 million.31 We asked how these costs were calculated and were told that they were extrapolated from research carried out in the USA and Scotland.32
17.We can see that there may be a correlation between areas with a significant amount of litter and areas of social deprivation and crime—inner city areas in particular, often have people passing through. But the link may not be causal: an area may be littered because of an inefficient council. Claims by Keep Britain Tidy for indirect costs associated with litter need to be underpinned with strong evidence-based research in England.
18.In contrast to litter, local authorities are required to input their data on fly-tipping into a Government database, ‘fly capture’, annually.33 As a result the statistics on fly-tipping are more reliable. While levels of litter have remained broadly stable, this year saw a marked increase in fly-tipping following a year on year decline since 2006. The Government reports that local authorities dealt with a total of 852,000 incidents of fly-tipping in 2013/14, an increase of 20% since 2012/13. Nearly two thirds of these involved household waste.34
19.The Government estimates that the cost of clearing of fly-tipping to local authorities in England in 2013/14 was £45.2 million, a 24% increase on 2012/13. It notes that local authorities carried out nearly 500,000 enforcement actions which represents an 18% increase on the previous year, at a cost of £17.3 million.35 While the Government does not make comparisons between different local authorities, analysis by The Guardian shows the top ten worst local authorities are dominated by London boroughs.36
20.The Government considers that the increase may, in part, be due to more incidents being reported by local authorities as a result of new on-line reporting or electronic facilities.37 But Mick Wright, former head of Waste Management at Luton Council, said fly-tipping had increased when the council started charging for the collection of household items.38 Similar comments were made by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) about the effects of recently introduced charges for collecting garden waste in Birmingham.39 However, commenting on local levels of fly-tipping, Shaun Morley, Head of Waste Management at Wandsworth Council, [not in the top ten] said that despite the higher figures for London boroughs, his authority had seen a decrease in fly-tipping because of greater enforcement:
We have also introduced time bandings into our town centres where commercial [waste] can only be collected at a certain time of day. What we are finding is that, without that there, there will be bags out all day and there will be bags added to it from domestic properties.40
21.In contrast, Mr Lawson from Warwickshire, said that “in the leafy suburbs of Warwickshire on the edge of Coventry and the metropolis […] we do not have the same levels of visibility at times,” and that, as a result, there was a lot of commercial fly-tipping in lay-bys.41 CPRE pointed out that illegal dumping affected farmers and private landowners disproportionately since it was the responsibility of the land owner to remove fly-tipping.42
22.There has been a significant upsurge in the incidence of fly-tipping in England in the last 12 months. If this trend continues in future years, it will increase the burden on local councils and private land owners.
5 Janet Slootweg ()
6 Keep Britain Tidy, , November 2014, p 5
7 The main grades are as follows:
A None of the issues present;
B Predominantly free with some minor instances of the issue;
C Widespread with some accumulations of the issue; and
D Heavily affected by the issue.
10 Q277 and e mail correspondence with Keep Britain Tidy
13 INCPEN, , 2014
18 DCLG () para 2.6
22 DCLG, , Final Outturn, (Budget line 270)
23 Keep Britain Tidy, , November 2014, p 27
24 Keep Britain Tidy, , November 2014, Ministerial Forward
25 Keep Britain Tidy () para 3
31 Keep Britain Tidy () para 9
33 Defra, , 30 October 2014, p 1
34 Defra, , 30 October 2014, p 1
35 Defra, , 30 October 2014, p 1
36 , The Guardian, 30 October 2014
37 Defra, 30 October 2014, p 1