The Facts About Litter

The Facts About Litter


Litter is ugly. It blights our beauty spots, it’s harmful to the environment, it’s harmful to health, and to wildlife.

Research shows that many people are concerned about litter, and that some people consider it antisocial behaviour, yet just as many people admit to dropping litter.

People generally believe that clearing up litter is someone else’s job, and education and behaviour change is at the centre of most litter campaigns for that reason.

Would your opinions on litter change if you knew the facts? Read on to find out some key facts about littering and why dropping that innocent sweet wrapper is not as unproblematic as you think.

Litter facts

  • In Scotland, around £46 million is spent on cleaning up litter, which is roughly £20 for every taxpayer.
  • More than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded globally each year. No matter where you are, you’re never far from a cigarette butt. Smoking-related litter is among the most common litter found on our streets.
  • Bournemouth Council teamed up with the plastics recycling campaign #pledge4plastics and got themselves into the world record books for producing the largest work of art made from recycled litter that had been discarded on the street.
  • Nobody is above the law when it comes to litter. A man in Singapore was fined a massive $15,000 for throwing a cigarette butt out of his apartment window. Even NASA once got a fine, when parts of one of their space stations fell to earth. They had to pay a $400 penalty to authorities in Australia, where the debris landed.
  • We all know that litter is a blight on our coastlines, and according to the Marine Conservation Society, around 1,963 pieces of litter are collected per kilometre by their litter pickers along our coastline. 
  • Maybe you think discarding fruit peel isn’t a problem? Well this counts as littering too, and it actually can take up to 2 years for a banana skin to fully decompose.

Fly-tipping facts

  • Over half of all fly-tipping incidents involve rubbish that is dumped in alleyways.
  • Black bags full of household rubbish accounts for 63% of all fly-tipping.
  • 95% of farmers say that they have cleared up other people's dumped rubbish from their land.
  • Fly-tipping can result in a fine of up to £20,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment. Fines are unlimited if the case goes to the Crown Court, and the potential prison term rises to 2 years. If hazardous waste has been dumped, the sentence can be as much as 5 years.

Litter facts

  • Cleaning up litter from the streets of Britain costs taxpayers around £500 million. That does not include the amount it costs to clean up parks and other public spaces.
  • Almost 48% of people admit to dropping litter.
  • The amount of litter dropped each year in the UK has increased by a massive 500% since the 1960s.
  • 7 out of every 10 items of discarded litter is food packaging or wrappers.
  • Around 122 tons of cigarette butts and cigarette-related litter is dropped every day across the UK.
  • 1.3m pieces of rubbish are dropped on UK roads every weekend. 1/3 of motorists admit to littering while they are driving.
  • The rat population has increased to 60 million due to the increasing amounts of litter.


  • All types of litter take time to degrade, so the ideal thing is not to drop it in the first place. Here is the average time it takes for some commonly discarded litter to decompose.
  • Orange peel and banana skins - up to 2 years
  • Cigarette butts - up to 2 years
  • Plastic bags -10-20 years
  • Tin cans - 50 years
  • Aluminium cans - 80-100 years
  • Plastic bottles – they can last forever
  • Glass – does not degrade