The True Cost of Littering

The True Cost of Littering

The True Cost of Littering       

The cost of keeping our streets clean is nearly £1 billion per year. Clearing up litter makes up a big chunk of this figure; £858 million to be exact. Britain’s ‘throwaway culture’ is being blamed for the huge clean-up bill.

The campaign group Keep Britain Tidy spends £10 million every year trying to encourage us to keep the streets clean, but there is now 500% more litter than there was in the 1960’s. It is estimated that 2 million pieces of litter are thrown onto the streets every year.

And it’s not just the direct cost of removing the litter that makes up this sobering figure, it’s the further social, environmental, and economic costs as well.

Litter is cited as a contributor to crime, as areas with high levels of litter tended to be areas with higher levels of crime.

A lot of litter is made up of materials that could have been reused or recycled, and if we even recycled half of the litter we throw away, this could be worth over £14 million to the economy.

Why litter is everyone’s business     

But a report by Keep Britain Tidy showed that people are willing to pay to live in a cleaner area, so we obviously value living in a clean environment. So why has the amount of litter increased so much if we care about our environment? 

Everyone has a right to live in a clean, litter free environment, and similarly, everyone has a part to play in reducing the amount of litter on our streets. What is required is a change in attitudes. Easier said than done, you might say, but in a time of austerity, should we be spending hundreds of millions of pounds on clearing up litter when we could be spending it on hospitals and schools?

What makes up most of the litter we throw away?

Chewing gum, fast food wrappers and cigarette butts are the usual suspects. Measures to combat this have been introduced, such as providing more bins and on the spot fines for littering.  

Before you throw away litter, consider this...   

  • Cigarette butts make up 1/3 of all litter. A discarded cigarette takes about 12 years to degrade fully and leaks toxins like cadmium, lead and arsenic into soil and waterways. Discarding cigarettes that are still lit can cause forest fires.   
  • Areas where there is a lot of litter tend to have higher levels of crime. Litter can give the impression that people don’t care about their neighbourhood which makes the area more vulnerable to criminals.
  • Pedestrians are responsible for 60% of littering and motorists are responsible for 40%.  
  • Plastic bags can take 1,000 years to degrade and a glass bottle can take even longer than this.

What you can do   

  • Always use designated bins for cigarette butts and chewing gum.
  • Don’t throw litter out of your car window, put rubbish in a carrier bag and put it in the bin when you get home.
  • If you can’t find a bin for litter when you are out, put the rubbish in your pocket or handbag until you find one or until you get home.
  • Reuse plastic bags you already have at home or buy a bag for life when you go shopping.