23.In this chapter we look at those items of litter which are consistently among the most littered—smoking materials, chewing gum, and fast-food-related litter.
24.According to the LEQSE, smokers’ materials—butts, packaging, matches— are the most commonly occurring items of litter.43 The INCPEN survey finds that smokers’ litter comprises 35.2% of total litter.44 The Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) told us that the industry recognised that there was an issue with smoking-related litter which had been made worse in recent years because of the banning of smoking in public places. While this did not give smokers the right to drop their litter, it was clear that many did.45 The TMA, and its member companies, undertook a variety of behaviour changing activities in relation to litter to encourage responsible behaviour and sought to provide solutions to assist in the responsible disposal of smoking-related litter:
For example, British American Tobacco (BAT) provides ‘Butt Stops Here’ portable ashtrays, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) provides the ‘Stub-Tidy’ pocket ashtrays and Imperial Tobacco funds ‘Butts-Out’ portable ashtrays. Imperial Tobacco and JTI were also co-founding partners, […] in Keep Britain Tidy’s ‘Love Where You Live’—a 20 year campaign aimed at tackling the problem of littering. In addition, JTI and Imperial Tobacco have […] facilitated local litter clearance campaigns using […] their own workforces.46
25.The TMA argued its efforts were hampered by the unwillingness of councils to work with them because many considered that the voluntary Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control (LGDTC)47 along with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) prevented them from doing so. The Local Government Association (LGA) told the TMA that it would not work with tobacco companies because:
As the member association for local government, which includes over 80 councils that have signed the Declaration, it would not be appropriate for the LGA to engage directly with the tobacco industry or to develop proposals that would exclude those that have signed the Declaration.48
The TMA argued that the LGDTC did not in fact call for the exclusion of the tobacco industry from areas of Government activity unrelated to public health policy, such as tackling litter. Giles Roca from the TMA said:
I think the tobacco industry understands there is a role to play. It wants to play a role. [We] are increasingly finding it very difficult to play a role because of [the] Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control, which has effectively stopped local authorities doing business with us on matters such as litter. Keep Britain Tidy decided in December 2013 that it would no longer have any activity with the tobacco industry whatsoever. Keep Britain Tidy will not deal with the tobacco industry. Local government will not deal with the tobacco industry on litter. 49
The TMA said it had sought legal opinion which had made it “very clear there is no legal bar, whatsoever, that stops local authorities dealing and having partnership with the tobacco industry on issues such as litter”.50
26.Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) disagreed:
the FCTC and its guidelines make it clear that government endorsement, encouragement or engagement with tobacco industry Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity is inappropriate as the tobacco industry can and has used CSR activity to create a more credible profile for itself and its policy positions.51
27.Keep Britain Tidy told us it could not do its job properly if councils would not work with it. As a result, it was no longer involved with the tobacco industry on any of its projects:
The reason we changed our position just over a year ago was that local authorities, and some of the big ones, were threatening to boycott us because we were receiving money from the tobacco industry. We cannot do our job if we do not work with local authorities.52
28.The Ministers who gave evidence presented differing opinions too. Kris Hopkins, DCLG, said, “our Department’s position is that we encourage local authorities to have that engagement.”53 Dan Rogerson, Defra, said he would not meet with the tobacco industry and that “this has been a Government policy that has been set over a long period.”54 The Local Government Declaration is supported by the Department of Health and Public Health England.55 The Department of Health has also issued guidelines for overseas posts on how to ensure their activities are consistent with the WHO Framework Convention.56
29.We have heard arguments for and against local authorities working with the tobacco industry in relation to litter and, unusually, we heard both arguments from different parts of the Government as well. The Local Government Association believes the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control prohibits it from working with the tobacco industry. It is likely that many local councils will follow suit. However, with DCLG’s approach to engage with the industry in mind, other local authorities may take a different view and they must be allowed to make their choice. If a council does decide to work with the tobacco industry to reduce cigarette-related litter, we recommend that none of these activities should indicate support for the industry, nor should the industry be allowed to publicise their contribution to a joint project or use it to promote tobacco consumption. Local councils must ensure they are very clear about the purpose of any engagement with the tobacco industry.
30.Mr Hopkins also informed us that as part of a wider consultation on cigarette levies, he had written to the Treasury to request that a portion of any new tobacco levy be used to help pay for the cost of clearing cigarette-related litter.57 The LGA also called for a portion of existing tobacco levies to be appropriated to local authorities for “preventative measures […] to reduce smoking and its health impacts” and “contribute to the cost of clearing up cigarette litter”.58
31.Tobacco attracts significant levies because of its lethal effects on health. Given the amount of cigarette-related litter, we strongly support the premise that a portion of these levies should be hypothecated and provided to local councils to pay for the cost of clearing cigarette-related litter.
32.The current impasse between the TMA, the LGA and some councils over the Local Government Declaration should not prevent the industry from working to reduce the incidence of cigarette-related litter independently. The TMA showed us an example of a pocket-sized, portable ash tray or ‘mini bin’, into which used cigarette butts can be placed, with no risk of fire, and taken home or disposed of responsibly. These have no markings to indicate involvement of the tobacco industry. The TMA told us it gave away 100,000 a year. We recommend that the TMA offer portable ash trays or ‘mini bins’, free of charge, at the point of sale to all who purchase cigarettes.
33.We are concerned that many public buildings do not offer, as a matter of course, facilities for proper disposal of cigarette-related litter in the areas where people congregate to smoke. The Government said it did not consider the placing of ashtrays to be the right solution and that it might be facilitating a habit.59 We do not agree with this view. Forcing people to go outside to smoke is the deterrent, not the absence of bins. The absence of receptacles for cigarette butts means they become litter and the public purse has to pay for their disposal. We recommend that all public buildings install receptacles for disposing of cigarette-related litter in those areas where staff congregate to smoke, but not high profile positions.
34.According to the INCPEN survey, chewing gum constitutes 26% of all litter.60 The LGA estimates that clearing chewing gum costs the average town centre £60,000 per year. On the basis of 936 towns in England this could add up to £56 million per year.61 Staining from the gum is particularly difficult to remove as it requires high pressure hoses.62 As a result of these costs some councils do not remove gum at all.63
35.Alex West, from the Wrigley Company, said the industry recognised there was a problem and was working through the Chewing Gum Action Group and other forums to reduce the incidence of solid gum, wrappers and staining on streets.64 As a result, the Chewing Gum Action Group said the LEQSE had registered a reduction in chewing gum staining in recent years, from 69% of sites being affected in 2009/10 to 64% in 2012/13.65
36.Given the costs of removal we examined the possibility of a five pence tax on chewing gum, with the revenue being used to help pay for the cost of cleaning chewing gum off pavements. The Government said it would not support such a tax,66 and many of our witnesses agreed. For example, INCPEN said:
it would not do anything for the litter problem unless you could apply the levy to everything that gets littered, so the banks’ ATM receipts and banana skins. There is a host of stuff out there and if we do a piecemeal thing it is only going to address a bit of it.67
Nor was the industry in favour of a tax. Ms West said research demonstrated that, if there was a tax, “people would think the clean-up is being paid for and would therefore drop their litter more readily”.68
37.We consider that taxing an item because it is littered can only be justified in exceptional circumstances. The costs of removing chewing gum mean that it is not in the same category as ATM receipts or banana skins. The chewing gum industry has, however, shown a willingness to combat litter from chewing gum. In our view it should do more to meet the costs of removing gum and to deter its consumers from littering with, for example, larger litter warnings on its packaging and wrappers.
38.This was a matter of considerable concern upon which the Committee deliberated at length. We are not, at this point, recommending a tax on chewing gum. However, this is the last chance for the industry to put its house in order. We recommend that our successor committee revisit this issue in one year unless it sees the industry making a much larger contribution to the costs of removing gum and staining and also encouraging its consumers to change their behaviour and achieving a significant reduction in litter. In this regard it should have larger notices about not littering on all its packaging, wrappers and adverts.
39.The LEQSE survey recorded an increase in the incidence of fast-food-related litter from 28.1% of sites in 2012/13 to 31.1% of sites in 2013/14.69 According to the INCPEN survey, which records the composition of litter, food packaging and food constituted 16% of the total.70
40.We examined the increase in fast-food litter.71 Cherry Lewis-Taylor, a franchisee with McDonald’s restaurants, told us that litter was only dropped by a tiny minority of customers.72 Nevertheless, her four restaurants undertook litter-picks around the premises three times a day. She said this was a common practice at McDonald’s restaurants:
These go out from every single restaurant for about 150 metres. […] We do pick up every bit of rubbish we can within that range. There are 1,200 restaurants each doing a litter patrol like that every day. In my own restaurants […] I have nine full-time members of staff and one of their primary roles is just to collect litter[…] That is at quite a considerable cost obviously, but it is a community restaurant and we believe in that community and social responsibility.73
41.Mrs Lewis-Taylor said that in Germany, such actions by all shop owners were the norm. In the UK shop owners can be asked to tidy up their perimeter under the Street Litter Control Notices Order 1991,74 but this is not an ongoing obligation75 and is only used when there is an obvious problem. When we asked the Government whether it would be in favour of a general obligation on retailers to keep their street fronts clear of litter, it said that it was not as “a lot of retail businesses are small businesses; […] they already contribute and pay charges through business rates”.76
42.George Monck, Chief Executive of CleanupUK, commented on the work of McDonald’s. He said they were “leading the charge in terms of the fast-food operators”77 and that it would be good if this became the norm. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be the norm and, as we have noted, fast-food litter is increasing. This supports the argument that alongside more use being made of Street Litter Control Notices, there should be a statutory obligation for the owners of food outlets and other retailers who sell food on-the-go to be responsible for clearing the perimeter of their premises regularly. The socially responsible are already meeting this requirement voluntarily whereas the irresponsible are shirking their responsibilities and avoiding the costs.
43.We recognise that what people eat, and where they eat it is changing. The increase in the number of fast-food outlets in many of our town centres is evidence of this and we are concerned about the increase in fast-food litter which is dropped over a wide area. We commend the work of McDonald’s franchisees undertaking daily litter picks outside the perimeter of their restaurants. This is the type of action which we would expect to be the norm for all. We recommend the next Government bring forward in legislation an obligation requiring all shops, restaurants and retail food outlets to keep the perimeters of their premises free from litter. In addition, the fast-food industry should introduce ‘on-pack’ information on all branded take-away and fast-food packaging to remind consumers to dispose of litter responsibly.
43 Keep Britain Tidy, , November 2014
44 INCPEN, , 2014
45 Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association ()
46 Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association ()
47 . The LGDTC is a voluntary agreement, launched in 2013, which commits signatory local authorities to take action on the harm caused by smoking. It has been signed by over 80 councils and has received endorsement from a number of public bodies including the Department of Health.
48 Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association ()
51 Action on Smoking and Health ()
56 Department of Health/Foreign and Commonwealth Office, , December 2013
58 Local Government Association () para 5.1.1
60 INCPEN, , 2014
61 Local Government Association () para 3.3
63 Q79 [Shaun Morley]
65 Chewing Gum Action Group ()
69 Keep Britain Tidy, , November 2014, p 17. ‘Fast-food-related’ litter includes wrappings, boxes, drinks containers, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, sandwich cartons and napkins.
70 INCPEN, , 2014, p 5
71 We are using fast-food litter to include all food-related litter from shops, restaurants and other retailers which sell food and drink which can be taken away and consumed on-the-go.