Trash talk: What can we do about our pandemic litter problem?

·4 min read
'Leave nothing behind but footprints' is good advice (Getty Images)
'Leave nothing behind but footprints' is good advice (Getty Images)

A surge in littering has been an unpleasant consequence of the pandemic easing, with many of our parks, streets and beauty spots frequently left covered in dirty, dangerous and unsightly litter. 

Britain was already facing a problem before Covid-19 - with 30 million tonnes of litter dropped every year, up 500 per cent since the 1960s.

Nevertheless, littering has increased during lockdown, because of the numbers of people who were forced to socialise outside but then didn't pick up after themselves. Worse still, with dumps and recycling centres closed, illegal fly tipping has also become a much bigger problem. 

Watch this: A dogged effort to clean a beach of its rubbish has seen 250, 000 items removed

And unfortunately, even as restrictions ease, the issue is getting worse.

With far less Brits flying abroad for their holiday, many are flocking to UK beauty spots instead - and not everyone is giving the countryside the respect it deserves. Organisations such as Natural Resource Wales (NRW) have publicly urged visitors not to drop any more litter this summer. 

As well as looking disgusting, litter poses huge dangers to wildlife and the environment and costs local councils around £700 million a year to clear - money which could much better be spent on vital services. 

So what is being done to combat our trash crisis? Possibly, not nearly enough. 

The government has been criticised in recent years for not giving enough attention to littering - for example, spending just £2000 a year over the past decade on promoting the Countryside Code. Meanwhile, councils have been denounced for not fining litter louts. 

"A high profile national campaign is called for," Quentin Brodie Cooper, from anti-litter network Zilch, told Yahoo. 

"This needs to be supported by infrastucture that gives people more opportunities to do the right thing. Finally, more enforcement is needed, as litterbugs need to fear being caught if their behaviour is to change."

At the same time, various schemes are nevertheless bubbling under which will aim to start combatting our litter problem. 

DEFRA (the Department for Farming and Rural Affairs) are working on a deposit return scheme for drinks containers which will incentivise us to recycle our bottles and cans. It has also launched a new Countryside Code, which emphasises the importance of taking waste home if there are no bins.

Thoughtful volunteers clearing a UK beach (Getty Images)
Thoughtful volunteers clearing a UK beach (Getty Images)

The anti-waste charity WRAP has also opened a scheme for local authorities in England to apply for grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 to purchase new litter bins. 

Meanwhile, the Welsh government has recently launched an ambitious plan to rid the country of litter and fly tipping entirely, while various businesses are also taking the battle against rubbish into their own hands. 

Asda, for example, has appointed 'Picnic Rangers' to host over 400 litter-picks this summer. 

An increasing number of individuals and communities are also fighting against litter - although without government support, they can only do so much. 'Plogging' (a mixture of litter picking and jogging) is on the rise, while Keep Britain Tidy has reported a rise in the number of people asking for litter picking kits.

"The pandemic did see many people having more time to appreciate their local environment," said Cooper. "So there has been an increased interest in removing the litter that blights their communities. Litter picking is a hugely fulfilling activity as the improvement to your local environment is visible and immediate - in groups it can also be sociable and fun.  

Plogging (litter picking and jogging) is on the rise (Getty Images)
Plogging (litter picking and jogging) is on the rise (Getty Images)

"But let's be clear, there are many better things that we might all be doing with our time than picking up other people's rubbish. Depressingly, despite the best efforts of thousands nationwide, as soon as it's cleared, it's back. 

"That's why, before the patience of so many volunteers runs out, we need to eradicate the root cause of the problem, the litterbug."

Read more: The Duchess of Wessex joins litter pick at the beach

So, what can you do if you want to combat our country's shameful litter problem? Well, for starters, make sure you pick up litter when you see it, and use reusable containers for your own food and drink whenever you can. 

Take your rubbish home from any picnic or outdoor event, and recycle it, or use roadside litterbins- unless they are overflowing. 

You can report litter to your local council’s Refuse Team, or on the litter reporting app Littergram. You could even find a local litter pick to join - try looking on the Keep Britain Tidy website, or your local Facebook pages. 

Let's keep our lovely countryside, towns and cities clean! 

Watch this: Jellyfish-inspired robot cleans waterways by swallowing trash

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