Travelling around the UK, I can’t help but notice the amount of litter on and around our trunk roads and motorways. Aside from being unsightly, dumped rubbish costs businesses and councils millions – and it looks like no-one's taking responsibility. I believe it’s necessary for us all to understand how problematic the issue really is, to take responsibility for it and to make active changes to solve it.
The scale of the problem
Research suggests we’re the most litter-blighted country in Europe. Highways England spends close to £5m per year clearing rubbish from its 'strategic road network' – and that barely scratches the surface.
The accumulating litter also contributes to localised flooding. Bristol, Chiswick and Thurrock are just some of the places where floods were caused by a combination of cleared litter, leaves and fly-tipping last year. There’s even evidence that poor levels of cleanliness are linked to higher rates of low-level crimes and social disorder.
Part of the problem seems to be that responsibility for keeping our roads clean is divided between various people. As well as Highways England, we also have the Department for Transport, the Environment Agency, local authorities and, of course, individuals, all of whom are accountable to some degree. And all of them pay the price when it isn’t done properly.
My worry's that this is creating a culture of writing the situation off as 'somebody else's problem', particularly as recent budget cuts are making it difficult for agencies and other public bodies to assign sufficient resources to the issue. However, with the consequences of littered streets clear to see, it’s time to question this false economy and seek constructive solutions.
Finding economic solutions
While some authorities, such as Hampshire, seem to be considering charging residents to use waste disposal facilities to cover budgeting shortfalls, I remain sceptical of this approach. It may seem fair to pass the cost onto the people producing the waste, but doing so in this manner simply increases the chances people will turn to fly-tipping.
Instead, a closer look could be taken at penalties for those who litter and fly-tip. Some authorities have already been increasing fines in response to the worsening situation and this may bear fruit if we remain diligent in enforcing these rules and encouraging greater ownership of our environment. At the very least, fines help cover the costs of clean-up.
That said, when it comes to roads, attitudes will be as important as enforcement, as many areas are not frequently patrolled. And I also believe that an essential part of any policy is ensuring those who are caught do pay. We need robust measures for following up on fines owed – ensuring that councils do not have to use money earmarked for other purposes to pick up individuals' litter.