65.David Sedaris, author and broadcaster, told us that levels of litter were high in the UK compared to other countries:
It is funny how many people I have spoken to in the UK who say, “Well, it is like this everywhere”. It is not. You have to go deep into Eastern Europe to find it this bad. I lived in France for a number of years. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in France. I lived in Japan for a while. I have never seen any rubbish whatsoever in Japan. It is obviously a cultural thing.104
66.The Government did not appear to share his view. Dan Rogerson, the Defra Minister, told us: “there is a pretty good standard across areas. […] We have not seen a problem that is getting dramatically worse.”105 We disagree. Not getting worse is not the same as acceptable. We take no satisfaction in it but the evidence of our own eyes, the photographs tweeted to us, and the evidence we took during this inquiry lead us to the conclusion that England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan. Change is needed.
67.Other witnesses said that, while penalties could contribute to changing behaviour, other measures were equally important. Giles Roca, who, although he gave evidence on behalf of the TMA, had previously worked for Westminster City and Essex County Council where his experiences led him to believe that:
If we are serious about addressing the issues of waste then we have to deal with the causation of this, and that is educating people, like we did with seatbelts in the 1970s and 1980s and like we did with dog mess, to make it clear that it is not acceptable. That is long-term cultural behaviour change.106
INCPEN told us that “the strong message” they took from the research they had undertaken was that “litter changes as people’s habits change and it is a behavioural thing”.107
68.We heard several suggestions to achieve behaviour change. Cherry Lewis-Taylor, a McDonald’s franchisee, told us about a scheme in Braintree, Essex to make it the cleanest district in the county. The campaign was supported by local industry. Messages about not littering and penalties were put on bins, petrol pumps and buses. Volunteers were trained by Keep Britain Tidy to monitor litter levels and at the end of the campaign they reported a 41% reduction in fast-food rubbish in the area.108 CleanupUK told us about “nudging ideas” which aimed to get people to think about litter in subtle ways, and made it “cool” for teenagers to put litter in the bin. To encourage younger children George Monck, Chief Executive, CleanupUK, gave the example of a bin which said ‘thank you’ or burped, when litter was dropped in it.109 Others have suggested a return to a system of monetary deposits for bottles and cans as an incentive for not littering.110
69.Other innovative solutions around bin design and location were put forward as a way of encouraging their use. Keep Britain Tidy told us that it had been focusing on:
social innovation […] to try to understand the behaviours of groups of people on the ground […] We know, for example, that, if you have a lot of litter bins, in some circumstances it will decrease the amount of litter, but not in all. We also know that, if you have a lot of litter bins but they are not properly managed, they will generate more litter.111
The LEQSE survey notes that bins with a large opening and the ability to drop rubbish into them, “are preferable to users, and that brightly coloured bins are seen to be more appealing and encourage greater use.”112
70.We also heard about various strategies. Shaun Morley from Wandsworth Council said they had a policy of not placing public bins in residential areas to discourage people from placing bags of rubbish beside these.113 Sean Lawson from the Warwickshire Waste Partnership explained the benefits of larger solar compacting bins which alerted the Council when they were full and thus reduced the need to check them constantly. He said their major disadvantage was, however, the £5,000 cost per bin.114 We saw how two of these “Big Belly Bins” worked.115 We were told that in Nottingham, where the Council had installed 160, they had been able to reduce significantly the frequency with which they emptied bins, thus saving staff and vehicle time, and had also seen a decrease in street and cigarette litter.116
71.We encourage councils think through their approach to bin types, location and strategy on bins for litter. They should not simply continue previous practice. In some places no bins may be better. In other places brightly-coloured, solar, compacting, talking bins or recycle on-the-go facilities may be the means of encouraging people to use them and to save on both the collection costs of litter and emptying bins.
72.While there is much that local authorities can do, reducing levels of litter and tackling increased fly-tipping across England requires leadership at national level. We looked for a national strategy. Defra, which has the policy lead for litter and fly-tipping,117 explained that its role was to set the standards, make sure the legislation was fit for purpose and bring people together by working with partners in industry and in the voluntary sector.118 DCLG also has a role to play since the most important partner with responsibility for the bulk of street cleaning activities, and tackling litter and fly-tipping, are local councils. They also carry the bulk of the costs of clearing litter and fly-tipping.
73.Some witnesses considered the current division of roles and responsibilities was unsatisfactory, did not amount to a coherent approach, and called for a national litter strategy.119 Industry, in particular, were keen for the Government to play a larger coordinating role so that each industry did not have to deal with every local authority separately. The Packaging Federation called for greater coordination:
At present approaches to litter are too fragmented and lack the focal point that a National Strategy would provide. There are many businesses and supply chains that are seeking to be involved but are discouraged by this fragmentation and by some negative campaigning by some of the anti‐litter campaign organisations.120
INCPEN said the Government should produce “a national litter strategy similar to that recently introduced in Scotland and should fund national litter prevention campaigns supported by all campaigners and all stakeholders, including schools”.121
74.The failure to make a noticeable improvement in litter levels in the last 12 years points to a lack of vigour, if not complacency, within Government over the past decade. There is a division of responsibilities between departments which, as it currently operates, creates problems for industry and volunteer groups and has neither reduced litter levels nor stopped the rise in fly-tipping. We recommend that the Government create a national litter strategy for England with a clear framework for action. This must be underpinned with a coordinating role for local councils within their respective areas.
75.We were minded to recommend a national clean-up England day as a way of encouraging and engendering a big push towards a cleaner England. However, the Government has read our minds and announced that there will be a Community Clean-up Day on 21 March. We welcome this initiative wholeheartedly and hope it will become an annual event.
110 Frampton Cotterell Village Action Litter Buster Groups (); Mike Ward ()
112 Keep Britain Tidy, , November 2014, p 17
115 Two such bins were brought to Parliament by Kyron Energy and Power, who make Big Belly Bins, for us to see how they worked.
116 Big Belly Smart Bin, Case Study 2, Nottingham City Council, , accessed 3 March 2015
119 Keep Britain Tidy (); INCPEN (); British Soft Drinks Association (); Foodservice Packaging Association (); The Packaging Federation ()
120 The Packaging Federation ()
121 INCPEN ()