Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of MRW, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Responsibility for litter lies with offenders

Margaret Bates

It seems that, increasingly, wherever I look there is litter. I am not sure if this is because I have become more aware of it, or that as a result of local authority cuts it is not being cleaned as comprehensively.

Whatever the reason there really is no excuse, other than the odd tissue that fell out unnoticed. When I was a child, in ancient times, it was socially unacceptable to drop litter, I believe it still is, so why is it still happening?

We spend lots of time educating children about the environment but then as they get older they either forget or no longer care. We cannot blame the retailers or fast food outlets who spend considerable time and effort cleaning up litter dropped by thoughtless customers.

The blame solely resides with the person who dropped the rubbish – if you are happy to carry the burger box when it has the burger in it then carry it for few minutes until you reach the next bin, or home, and dispose of it responsibly. We have the luxury of a well-established network of facilities that accept our waste.

litter on our street

litter on our street

Litter and waste impacts on all of us and I think it is a fine line between full on fly-tipping and litter. How do we encourage people to do the right thing with their waste – be it a flatbed full of rubble or a bag of fast food debris? The “Right Waste Right Place” campaign is a great start but we need to ensure it gets to the right people. At the same time we need to ensure that people know what the right thing to do is.

A plumber friend of mine told me has only been asked for his waste carriers licence once (by an Environment Agency officer), but a waste carriers licence hardly acts as a barrier to entry for those who are planning on illegal disposal.

I hope that when we consider the options for extended producer responsibility we look at ensuring that the whole supply chain, including householders and SMEs, are aware of where the responsibility for waste resides. It is not the local authority who should be diverting increasingly reducing budgets to cleaning up waste – the people who were too lazy, or ill informed, to do the right thing should pay.

We need everyone to think about where their waste is going, cheapest isn’t always best, doing the right thing isn’t necessarily the cheapest.

Margaret Bates is professor of sustainable wastes management at the University of Northampton

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.