Recyclables littered in England worth £14.8m

Recycling just half of the items littered in England would have an economic benefit of at least £14.8 million, a new Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) report has found.

Written by environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd for the anti-litter campaigners, ‘Exploring the indirect costs of litter in England’ attempts to evaluate the cost of litter, and assess its inherent value.

The report follows on from KBT’s 2013 report ‘Which side of the fence are you on?’, which explored the direct costs of litter in England. For example, it found that street cleansing alone costs taxpayers almost £1 billion a year in England (a ‘significant’ part of which goes towards removing litter).

However, this does not take into account the indirect costs of litter, such as the social, environmental and economic costs, which this new report aims to do.

Report details

Eunomia identified that there are several indirect key impacts related to litter, including:

  • state of mental wellbeing;
  • indirect costs of drug-related litter;
  • costs of litter-related injuries and litter-related road traffic accidents;
  • indirect costs of litter to the rail network;
  • a loss of material resource; and
  • indirect costs to tourism and house prices.

Indeed, Eunomia estimated that, based on assumptions linking mental wellbeing and the local environment, litter could annually cost England around £526 million, and that litter-related fires cost around £70.6 million a year (based on the average secondary outdoor fire cost and the estimated number of fires attributed to loose refuse in England).

The consultancy also found significantly high costs linking litter and house prices – which could cost England a whopping £1 billion a year (if just one per cent of the country’s housing stock is devalued by 2.7 per cent by litter), and that the contribution of litter to crime in England could cost up to £328 million a year. This figure is based on evidence associated with litter as a causal factor in crime. (KBT recently released a report identifying that areas with more litter were more likely to have higher levels of crime.)

The report also explored what people are willing to pay to live in a cleaner neighbourhood. Results showed the public in England collectively would be willing to pay at least £70.6 million and possibly up to £7.6 billion, ‘clearly demonstrating the value people place on a clean environment’.

Loss of resources valued between £12.8m and £14.8m

Looking to the loss of material resource by littering, Eunomia identified that although littered material is often recyclable, a lot of value is lost as collected litter is typically managed as residual waste instead of being recycled or recovered.

Indeed, using data from Resource Futures’ ‘National compositional estimates for local authority collected waste and recycling in England, 2010/11’ and basing the recycling rate on England’s 2012/13 figures of 43.2 per cent, Eunomia calculated that around 146,524 tonnes of littered material had the potential to be recycled.

The loss of material resource was also quantified – with Eunomia using the Waste & Resources Action Programme’s February 2014 ‘Materials Recycling Report’ to find out what reprocessors would pay for a tonne of recyclable materials (materials for which a gate fee would be charged, around 39.9 per cent of litter, were not considered).

It found that the potential value of recycled material lost to littering is worth between £12.8 million to £14.8 million per year. However, it argues that as recycling rates get higher and resources become scarce (in line with government commitments), this number is ‘likely to increase’.

Report recommendations

Given the findings, Eunomia recommended that a range of areas merit further consideration, including:

  • the significant costs of litter, especially those relating to disamenity (as this is the most significant cost category). For example, obtaining a better understanding of specific types of litter, or locations for litter, that caused the greatest unhappiness for the population of England could help target interventions to where they were most wanted;
  • the links between litter and mental health and wellbeing, especially as the extent and cost of mental health problems would increase in the absence of ‘wide-scale interventions’;
  • the interactions between the existing extent of littering and the likelihood of members of the public to voluntarily pick litter; and
  • the costs associated with specific types of litter that ‘may be amenable to specific policy interventions’, such as crisp packets (currently non-recyclable).

‘The price we all pay because of litter is too high’

Commenting on the release of the report, Phil Barton, Keep Britain Tidy’s Chief Executive, said: "It is important that we all understand just how litter and poor local environmental quality can adversely impact on both society and our economy.

"What this report shows is that the actual price we all pay to clean up the rubbish is just the tip of the iceberg.

"More work is needed to fully understand the hidden cost of litter, and there is no doubt that there are gaps in our understanding, but what is clear is that the bill for litter in England is significantly more than the direct costs of keeping our streets clean.

"Everyone who has a part to play in solving the problem of litter – government, businesses and communities – should see this report as a wake-up call, especially for political parties in the run-up to the general election next year… The price we all pay because of litter is too high, and prevention of the problem should be as seen a priority both for communities, the economy and the environment."

Read the Exploring the indirect costs of litter in England’ report.