Eunomia calls for deposit refund scheme to reduce litter

Environmental consultancy Eunomia has released a new report on litter, calling on government to introduce a deposit-refund scheme for drinks packaging and introduce levies on chewing gum and cigarettes.

Eunomia calls for deposit refund scheme to reduce litter

‘A Clean Sweep: Rethinking the way we tackle litter’ follows on from a similar report into litter reduction released by the Communities and Local Government Committee (CLG Committee) on Saturday (14 March). However, Eunomia argues that although the CLG report ‘makes some sensible recommendations’, it ‘does not go far enough in shifting the burden of litter so that it is the polluters who pay – and who therefore take the lead in reducing the problem’.

Lead author of Eunomia’s report, Chris Sherrington, said: “The CLG Committee is right to call for a national litter strategy for England, but the measures they recommend fall well short of what is needed to deliver a real change. That will only come when we shift the burden of financial responsibility towards those responsible for creating the problem, as they are the ones best placed to prevent it.”

As such, Eunomia’s report outlines a series of measures to further deter littering and encourage product innovation to make commonly-littered items less problematic.


The report argues that due to the ‘high volume’ of beverage containers, they can contribute to litter arisings either by being incorrectly discarded, or by causing bins to fill rapidly, thus ‘indirectly’ leading to other items being littered. Eunomia also suggests that as only three-fifths of beverage containers are captured for recycling, a deposit-refund scheme on bottles and cans could help reduce litter and boost recycling rates (as people would be incentivised to return items, or even pick up littered items, if they have are considered to have a value). This echoes calls for such a scheme made in a 2010 Eunomia report for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, ‘Have We Got the Bottle?

Cigarette and chewing gum levy

Eunomia highlights that smoking-related litter accounts for 35 per cent of all litter (by number of items), but argues that the CLG Committee’s recommendation for a proportion of tobacco levies to be provided to local councils to help cover the cost of clearing up cigarette-related litter is ‘a little disappointing’ as it ‘will do nothing to rebalance incentives’.

As such, the consultancy proposes that a levy of one pence be placed on every cigarette sold (however, this could be reduced if monitoring revealed a decline in the littering of these items), which could raise around £300 million per annum in England, which could then be redistributed to local authorities to support litter removal. This levy would therefore shift the financial burden from taxpayers (who pay towards street cleaning costs) to smokers, supporting the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Likewise, to shift the cost of clean-up to the polluter, Eunomia also recommends that a similar levy be placed on packets of chewing gum (approximately eight pence a packet, but subject to change in response to changes in littering behaviour), which would cover the approximate £60 million cost of removing chewing gum-related litter.

Single-use cups

Eunomia also highlights that single-use cups, such as takeaway coffee cups, can lead ‘indirectly’ to other items being littered. Noting that some effort is being taken to encourage consumers to bring reusable cups (for example, Starbucks customers bringing a reusable cups are given a 25 pence discount of their purchase), the report states that a charge should be placed on single-use cups.

Unlike the levy for chewing gum and cigarettes, however, this charge would not aim to cover the cost of clean up, but instead change behaviour, and therefore would ‘need to be relatively high, perhaps in excess of 25 pence per item’. Any monies raised could then be donated to charities (or retained by smaller companies).

Other recommendations include:

  • extending the Carrier Bag Charge in England to cover all single-use bags, including paper and biodegradable plastic ones, and to include smaller retailers;
  • establishing networks of water fountains in town centres to reduce the need for people to buy bottled and canned drinks (which could later be littered);
  • extending existing local authority powers to include appropriate litter-prevention measures within the license conditions of traders such as pubs and clubs, sellers of late-night food, event organisers and drink and street traders.

‘Refocus the costs of cleaning up litter away from the general Council Tax payer’

Eunomia states: ‘The measures advocated in the report would bring about improved environmental outcomes at a lower overall cost than simply cleaning up after litter has been dropped. They would refocus the costs of cleaning up litter away from the general Council Tax payer, and on to the users of frequently littered items. Some could be implemented by local councils under current powers, but the majority would require new government legislation. We believe that all of these measures merit inclusion in any strategy that truly aims to tackle litter.

‘The benefits of a reduction in littering would be shared across society, by all those who would rather see our town centres and open spaces free from the bags, butts, burger boxes and bottles that blight them.’

Read ‘A Clean Sweep: Rethinking the way we tackle litter’ or find out more about the CLG Committee’s report on tackling litter.

Related Articles