Resource Use

National KBT survey notes rise in fast-food litter

Litter levels are ‘acceptable’ in 90 per cent of surveyed sites in England, though fast-food and carrier-bag litter has increased significantly in the last year, Keep Britain Tidy found in its annual Local Environment Quality Survey of England (LEQSE).

The ‘How Clean is England?’ 2014/15 report, carried out on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), illustrates the findings of the survey, which measures the presence of litter as well as six other indicators of cleanliness: detritus, weed growth, staining, graffiti, fly-posting and recent leaf and blossom fall.

Statistics given in the report relate to the presence or absence of litter, rather than the volume. Each site is therefore graded as ‘acceptable’ or not, with the presence of individual materials also noted.

Although 90 per cent of the 7,200 sites surveyed for the report showed an ‘acceptable’ standard for litter, the amount of some of the most littered items has increased, with fast-food litter and plastic bags showing a particular increase. Eighty per cent of the sites surveyed had some form of ‘food-on-the-go’-related litter present.

A total of 49.8 per cent of sites were considered acceptable in all seven measures included in the survey, representing an increase of 12 percentage points since 2009, when standards were considered to be at their lowest since the survey began in 2001.

The report also highlights the difference between the most deprived and wealthiest areas of the country. In the poorest areas, KBT found that 25 per cent of sites are ‘unacceptably littered’, while only two per cent of areas in the most affluent areas have the same designation.

Specific items

Smokers’ material such as cigarette butts are found at 72.8 per cent of all sites, making them the most frequently recorded item of litter. Its prevalence has remained ‘relatively consistent’ since 2004, but the number of butts found at each site seems to have reduced since 2012, which KBT suggests coincides with a reduction in the levels of smoking.

The number of sites with gum staining has also risen by two per cent to 64 per cent since last year. However, dog fouling is at its lowest level since the survey began in 2001, and was found at only seven per cent of sites in the survey.

A significant rise has also been noted in the number of sites with littered plastic bags, discarded food and drink and vehicles parts. KBT states that research is needed to establish why this is the case, though the carrier bag charge being introduced in England in October should address litter in that area, with Tesco already reporting that use of bags from its stores has decreased by 78 per cent.

The 10 most littered items by type, according to the report, are:

  1. Smokers’ material
  2. Confectionery packs
  3. Soft drinks bottles and cans
  4. Fast-food related
  5. Snack packs
  6. Packaging
  7. Alcoholic drinks bottles and cans
  8. Paper tissues
  9. Vehicle parts
  10. Discarded food

Survey not commissioned for 2015/16

English local authorities spend £700 million a year on street cleansing, and earlier in December the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced that it was working on the country’s first-ever national litter strategy to ‘put in place a coherent clean-up plan for England’.

However, the Local Environment Quality Survey of England has not been commissioned for next year, which Keep Britain Tidy’s Chief Executive Allison Ogden Newton argues will make measuring progress hard.

Following the release of the KBT report, she said: “Clearly, it is an issue of social justice that the poorest in our society live in the most littered places. Everyone has the right to live somewhere that is clean and litter-free, and Keep Britain Tidy, using its expertise and campaigning, will continue to fight for a better environment for everyone.

“The announcement that the government is to develop a litter strategy for England is to be welcomed but, unfortunately, as a LEQSE survey has not been commissioned for 2015/16, we will not have a baseline survey against which to measure the success of any national initiatives.

“This year’s survey shows that plastic bag litter increased and they were found on more than 10 per cent of sites visited. As this survey was completed before the introduction of the carrier bag charge in England, we will not be able to determine whether the charge has had any impact on the number of bags littered.”

Partnership needed to combat problem

Commenting on the report, Resources Minister Rory Stewart said: “Litter has a huge impact on the quality of our streets and public spaces, so it is good to hear that councils are continuing to achieve good results in reducing it.

“But there is clearly much more work to be done to stop this blot on our environment.

“We must all work to tackle this unhealthy, costly and avoidable problem, which is why we will be working with businesses, environmental groups and local authorities to develop a national litter strategy.”

The full ‘How Clean is England?’ report for 2014/15 can be found on Keep Britain Tidy’s website.