Rubbish strewn across beaches, carpets of detritus left behind in the capital, discarded packaging dumped in London parks for someone else to deal with.
These are all scenes that have become too familiar during the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the UK but which have their root in a much more long-term problem – the UK’s litter epidemic.
Throughout lockdown, we’ve heard stories and seen pictures of our beautiful parks trashed by visitors, and it led one council to ban alcohol consumption from London Fields.
Locals endured weeks of human poo being left in the park, as well as overflowing bins and bags, bottles and cans along the grass.
Over in South London, Clapham Common was completely trashed after an illegal rave took place.
And in Richmond Park, a haven for wildlife in South West London, saw rubbish weighing as much as three buses dumped there in June.
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Today we are standing up to it, and urging you to do the same, with our new campaign Don’t Trash Our Future.
MyLondon, together with local community and information platform InYourArea.co.uk and our nationwide network of sister newspapers and websites, have teamed up with Clean Up Britain to push for changes we believe will leave no choice but for both irresponsible litter louts and the authorities who have the power to enforce the law but so often don’t to take long-lasting action.
Our campaign has two aims:
To increase the maximum punishment for littering to a £1,000 fine or 100 hours of supervised community litter picking
To make it compulsory for local authorities to enforce the law on littering
We are urging you to sign our petition to see it – with the aim of reaching 100,000 signatures so we can lobby the Government to change the legislation and shed the country of its long-held reputation as a litter-plagued nation.
We’re also calling on councils to flex their muscles in the fight against rubbish and make far better use of the powers they already have available.
A Freedom of Information request sent by Clean Up Britain to 169 councils in England and Wales found the majority (56%) were issuing less than one fine per week for littering and more than two dozen (16%) don’t issue fines at all.
In a recent survey conducted by InYourArea.co.uk, more than 7,500 respondents overwhelmingly said littering has a negative effect on them and their neighbourhoods and classed it as a big problem.
JB Gill, a former member of superstar pop group JLS who is now a passionate advocate for education and the countryside, has signed up as an ambassador for Don’t Trash Our Future.
He said: “It’s great to see that people recognise that litter is a public health concern and a major problem. The only way to stop the damage being done to our health, nature and wildlife is to sign the Don’t Trash our Future petition, object to local councils not enforcing fines and demand a higher penalty for those dropping litter.”
‘Fines need to be increased’
John Read, founder of Clean Up Britain, said: “Clean Up Britain is very excited to be running the Don’t Trash Our Future campaign with InYourArea.co.uk
“We know from the countless people who contact us that there is a huge desire – from people all over the country – to try and solve the litter epidemic.
“We are all so fortunate to live in a beautiful country, but equally, it’s so depressing to see so many people littering it. This has to stop, as it shames Britain.
“There has to be zero tolerance towards littering. Littering is symptomatic of a lack of pride in our local communities, and a lack of respect for other people and the environment generally.
“This campaign is about challenging and reversing these negative sentiments, and saying enough is enough.
“Let’s be grateful for what we have, take care of our country and, above all, ‘Don’t Trash Our Future’.”
Mr Read added: “The Government needs to start getting serious about confronting people who litter.
“It’s a criminal offence to litter and it needs to be treated that way. Fines need to be increased to a level which shows the Government – and society generally – will no longer tolerate this antisocial and selfish behaviour.
“In addition, we also need to ensure fines are a credible deterrent, by making it compulsory for councils to enforce the law, which currently it’s not.”
Journalist and television presenter Jeremy Paxman is Clean Up Britain’s patron. He said: “There is only one sustainable and effective solution to littering: changing the behaviour of people who do it. Nothing else will work.
“It pollutes the environment. It’s dangerous to humans and animals.
“It depresses people because mucky surroundings make them feel worthless. It’s expensive – councils across the UK spend over a billion pounds a year trying to clean it up.”
The campaign has also received the backing of broadcaster and animal rights campaigner Clare Balding and her partner Alice Arnold.
Together, they said: “It’s very sad to see so much litter in this country, both in the countryside and in urban areas.
“It has a demoralising effect on all of us and, also, has a very negative impact on animals.
“A shocking reflection of this is that RSPCA vets, last year, treated over 5,000 cases of animals who’ve been injured by, ingested or become trapped by litter.
“We hope the Clean Up Britain and InYourArea national campaign, Don’t Trash Our Future, will change the attitudes and behaviour of people who do litter, and make us all take more care of the naturally beautiful country we are fortunate to share together.”
Further support has come from television host Gabby Logan and her husband Kenny, a former Scotland international rugby player turned broadcaster.
Together they said: “We’re urging everyone to get behind the ‘Don’t Trash Our Future’ national anti-litter campaign, and show how much we care about our naturally beautiful country. Littering is senseless, selfish and costly to us all.
“It’s only a minority of people who do it, but it negatively affects the quality of life for absolutely everyone.
“To use the sporting analogy… it’s a self-inflicted, needless, own goal. It doesn’t cost a penny to do the socially-responsible right thing, and put your litter in a bin. Just do it! Please.”
Ed Walker, Editor-in-Chief of InYourArea.co.uk, said it’s time for littering to stop.
“InYourArea are proud to be working with Clean Up Britain to tackle the country’s litter and waste epidemic.
“Our users are sick of seeing their neighbourhoods being treated like rubbish dumps. Don’t Trash Our Future will hopefully make councils and members of the public think harder about the littering issue.”
The campaign has also received the backing of behavioural science expert Merle Van Der Akker, President of Behavioural Insights at Warwick Business School.
He said, “It is not about the absolute value of the fine, it’s about the message it sends.
“This level of fine tells you that this behaviour is deemed costly, and quite frankly unacceptable.
“Sometimes it does take drastic measures to get this message across. From a behavioural science perspective, presenting people with such a message triggers a response of shock, because of the sheer size of the fine.
“People then reason that if the fine is so big, the issue at hand must be of great importance or urgency. This is how you get people to pay attention and take action. No one wants to be fined £1000 for throwing away a £1 can of drink.”
Our survey says
A total of 378 people across our city completed our survey on how they feel about littering in London.
Here are the results:
- Most people in London think there’s a problem with litter where they live – 41% said it was a big problem, and 49% said it was a major problem, while 9% said it was a small problem, with 1% saying there was no problem.
- The litter problem locally is also making people in London feel bad – 53% said seeing litter made them feel angry and 22% said it made them feel sad or depressed, while 20% just said they hate it!
- The majority of people (66%) also think the problem has got worse since lockdown was eased.
- Just 3% think litter has decreased, while 27% think it’s stayed the same.
- When asked what types of litter they come across most often, 89% of respondents said fast food wrappers and cups, 77% said drinks cans, 82% said plastic bottles, and 57% said plastic bags.
- As well as this, 52% said cigarette butts, 37% said food waste, 48% said nitrous oxide canisters, 27% said chewing gum stained pavements, and 21% said receipts.
- While many respondents across the UK said they saw a mixture of types of rubbish from lots of different brands, some stood out as more commonly dropped – more than a quarter mentioned McDonald’s, with KFC, Costa, Greggs and Tesco also mentioned more often than similar outlets.
- In London, 16% of respondents mentioned McDonald’s when asked which brands they saw littered more often.
- Respondents were clear, it’s not them causing the problem – 83% said they never drop litter.
- Just 2% said they did drop litter, while 12% admitted they may have dropped a very small wrapper, a cigarette butt or a piece of chewing gum.
- People in London are somewhat split on whether they would confront someone dropping litter – 34% said they would be somewhat or very likely to confront the person, while 46% said somewhat or very unlikely.
- When asked why they might be reluctant to confront someone, 85% said they would be worried about how the person might react.
- Respondents were also pretty split on whether they’d report someone they saw littering – 24% said they were very likely to report littering, 39% said somewhat likely, and 35% said they wouldn’t.
- Most people (78%) knew littering was a criminal offence – but few knew anyone who had been fined (1% had been fined themselves and 8% knew someone who had been fined).
- The aims of the Don’t Trash Our Future campaign are to get the maximum punishment for littering to a £1,000 fine or 100 hours of supervised community litter picking and to make it compulsory for councils to enforce the law on littering
- Those aims likely line up with the feelings of people in London based on the survey results.
- A majority (69%) think the maximum fine for littering should be higher than the current £150, with 19% saying it should be more than £1,000.
- The vast majority (96%) think their local council should enforce the law against littering.
- More bins would also be popular – 82% think there are too few in their local area, while 16% think the number is about right and 1% think there are too many.
Organise your own clean-up
As well as fighting for long-lasting change, we’re encouraging people to take up the fight in their streets too by organising community litter picks.
Register your interest through this form and we will support and publicise your efforts.
Meet our celebrity ambassador
JB Gill, 32, rose to fame as a member of one of the UK’s biggest boybands – JLS. They dominated the charts for five years, boasting 5 number 1 singles, over 10 million record sales worldwide and a multitude of awards.
Four years ago, JB set up a farm in the Kent countryside, where he lives with his wife, Chloe, four-year-old son, Ace and 7-month-old daughter, Chiara.
Their smallholding successfully produces award winning KellyBronze turkeys and free-range Tamworth pork.
Now an established member of the farming community, JB has used his success within the entertainment industry to highlight his passion to educate children about the origins of their food and he is the lead presenter on CBeebies’ BAFTA-nominated television series, ‘Down On The Farm’ (created for children aged 0-6 years, teaching them about life on the farm and in the outdoors).
JB’s enthusiasm for farming life and knowledge of countryside issues has seen him regularly contribute to BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ and ‘Springwatch’.