Resource Use

Litter 'associated with increases in crime'

A new survey from anti-litter campaigners Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) has found that litter is associated with poverty, crime, and social disorder.

Carried out annually by KBT on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the ‘How Clean is England? Local Environmental Quality Survey of England 2013/2014aims to provide information on the overall cleanliness of the country in the hopes of informing strategy and providing government authorities and businesses with ‘the information they need in order to improve local environmental quality’.

The survey was carried out at 7,200 sites across England from April 2013 to March 2014 in five local authority areas in each of England’s nine regions (North West., North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, Greater London, South West and South East).

It asked respondents to rank the prevalence of the following factors in their local area: litter; cleanliness; detritus; weed growth; staining; graffiti; fly-posting; and leaf and blossom fall, to help assess the environment quality of that area.

Report findings

Litter is associated with increases in crime
Figure taken from 'How Clean is England?'

According to KBT, the overall picture of environmental quality in England is a positive one. Litter has seen an improvement in its average grade in 2013/14, with an ‘acceptable’ standard in 89 per cent of sites, representing an increase of four per cent since 2001/02, when the survey first began.

For the first time, this year, KBT compared the ranking alongside numerous external datasets in order to test for relationships that could affect local environmental quality or vice versa, such as instances of deprivation and crime.

The study found a ‘distinct link’ between levels of deprivation and the level of litter, cigarette butts and dog fouling. The percentage of sites recorded as ‘unacceptable’ for litter decreased from 28 per cent in the most deprived areas to just three per cent in the least deprived areas.

Similarly, there was a significant decrease in the average number of cigarette butts recorded on site, falling from 13 in the most deprived areas to three in the least deprived areas.

The percentage of sites containing instances of dog fouling also fell, from 14 per cent in the most deprived areas to six per cent in the least deprived locations.

Sites graded ‘A’ for litter, graffiti and fly-posting were also those least at risk from crime – and, as standards fell, so the risk of crime increases. For example, where litter, graffiti and fly-posting were ranked ‘C’ or ‘D’, the likelihood of crime sat between one in 5,000 and one in 10,000, while areas ranked ‘A’ for these three factors had a crime rate of between one in 17,000 and one in 21,000.

KBT argued that this ‘adds more weight’ to the ‘broken windows’ theory first developed in New York policing: ‘if an area is neglected and badly maintained, crime and anti-social behaviour will increase, and vice versa’.

However, although sites graded ‘A’ for graffiti had the highest rates of employment, sites with the most graffiti (‘C/D’ grade sites) correlated with the second-highest rate of employment. In contrast, sites which achieved ‘B’ and ‘B-’ grades were the sites where employment levels were lowest. This suggests there is not a link between graffiti levels and employment rates.

KBT outlined that the trend ‘points to a need for further research into the relationship between deprivation and local environmental quality’.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • detritus (non-recognisable waste particles, such as dust and soil), which was at its highest standard in 2012/13, declined but continued to be the worst performing indicator;
  • the biggest decline in standard was for recent leaf and blossom fall. This indicator had the largest variation out of all the key indicators’;
  • the top three litter types in England remained consistent over the past decade, being: smokers’ materials; confectionery packs; and non ­alcoholic drinks-related litter;
  • fast-food chain litter prevalence has increased the most over the past 10 years, and is increasing at a rate far exceeding that of the top three litter types;
  • mud and grime has become the greatest cause of staining over the past five years, and was recorded at 91 per cent of sites;
  • the West Midlands achieved the best average grade for litter, closely followed by the South West and East Midlands; and
  • the North West and Greater London recorded the worst average grades, attributed to the fact that they are the most densely-populated areas of the country.

Report should ‘act as a wake-up call to action’

KBT Chief Executive Phil Barton commented: "Our earlier research pointed to what we have always instinctively known - that more deprived areas suffer from poorer environmental quality. This report confirms it clearly and irrefutably.

"It is clear that social inequality extends to the quality of people’s surroundings and we know that if places are dirty and look “unloved” this can adversely impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing.

"This report should act as a wake-up call to action for everyone who has a role to play in improving our environment at its most basic level – outside our own front doors."

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Water, Forestry, Rural Affairs and Resource Management Dan Rogerson (who also wrote the ministerial foreword to the survey) added: "Litter has a huge impact on the quality of our streets and public spaces and we all have a responsibility to keep our communities tidy. Government is introducing a charge on plastic bags and supporting initiatives such as the National Litter Prevention Commitment. This encourages business to reduce litter through improved product design and labelling for consumers.

"While we have made great progress in recent years, this research shows there is still more to be done. I hope local authorities consider these results as they work to keep our neighbourhoods clean and tidy."

Read the ‘How Clean is England? Local Environmental Quality Survey of England 2013/2014’ or view KBT’s interactive summary of the key points.