The natural world and environment around us, is our most precious inheritance. Everyone wants their country to be a great place to live, with clean air and water, beautiful countryside, habitats, and stunning urban areas that are welcoming and vibrant. The UK is blessed to have diverse landscapes, beautiful countryside, rolling hills, coastlines, and seas.
The quality of our environment has a direct impact on an individual’s health and well-being both physically and mentally. However, sadly when our local villages, towns and countryside are blighted with litter it reduces the ability to be able to enjoy them. Research has found that 81% of people are angry and frustrated by the amount of litter lying all over the country. Furthermore, 28-30% of people perceive “litter and rubbish lying around” to be a problem in their area.
According to research conducted by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs the cost to keep our streets clean costs on average £28 per household. Additionally, Highways England spends at least £6 million a year on collecting litter from the Strategic Road Network.
What Is Litter
There is no legal definition of litter, but it includes anything from a chocolate wrapper, bag of rubbish or cigarette butt. Regardless of type, litter is unsightly and makes local areas look unkempt and uncared for. According to Keep Tidy Britain, the most common litter is drink cans, bottles, fast food packaging and cigarette butts. Litter can often take years to degrade which often causes harm, to wildlife and their habitats. Any food that is dropped can also lead to vermin such as rats, pigeons and seagulls being attracted.
Health & Wellbeing
Across various Government studies, the general public has distinguished the local environment to be an important factor in their wellbeing. A survey of 19,000 people in England showed that spending 2 hours or more a week in or around open green spaces, significantly increased the likelihood of good health or high wellbeing. However, litter can damage our quality of life. Often seen as a sign of disrespect for the local environment, community, workplace, and home.
Furthermore, there is evidence that living near the coast, rivers and lakes can increase an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. These types of environments promote increased levels of physical activity. One study reported people with good access to the natural environment are 22% more likely to be physically active.
Overall, physical activity has been seen to reduce the risk of mental illness, dementia, and physical conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. In England, almost two-thirds (63%) of adults are overweight or living with obesity. Furthermore, 40% of children leave primary school overweight or obese. Across the UK, it is estimated that obesity-related illnesses, cost the NHS £6.1 billion each year.
Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive, Phil Barton, said: “Our earlier research pointed to what we have always instinctively known – that more deprived areas suffer from poorer environmental quality. This report confirms it clearly and irrefutably. It is clear that social inequality extends to the quality of people’s surroundings, and we know that if places are dirty and look ‘unloved’ this can adversely impact health and wellbeing.”. Therefore, having a clean and tidy, open space to enjoy is vital.
Environmental Consequences Of Litter
The environmental consequences of litter not only affect animals and injures wildlife, but can pollute waterways, and even harm humans. The RSPCA receives on average 7,500 calls a year about litter-related incidents affecting animals. From badgers with plastic can holders embedded in their necks to hedgehogs with their heads wedged in empty tins.
On average humans discard around 60 million plastic water bottles every day. According to National Geographic, the amount of plastic that enters our oceans is expected to nearly triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons. This plastic then ends up ingested, suffocating, and entangling hundreds of marine species.
However, it is not only marine life and animals that are affected by human littering. In a recent study, analysing blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, 17 were found to have plastic particles in their bloodstream. This was made up of PET plastic commonly from drinks bottles, polystyrene often used for packaging food, and polyethylene from which plastic carrier bags are made.
Furthermore, humans throw away around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts every year. Not only creating a fire hazard but further contributing to toxins in soil and waterways. Further threatening the health of organisms including humans.
Lastly, litter such as cans and glass on streets, beaches and playgrounds can result in cuts, injuries and strangled trapped animals. One British study looking at stress found that even viewing images of littered beaches caused participants high levels of stress. Further indicating the negative impact of litter.
25 Year Environment Plan
In 2018, the UK Government launched their 25 Year Environment Plan. This sets out their ambition to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.
The goals outlined to achieve include:
- Clean air
- Clean and plentiful water
- Thriving plants and wildlife
- Reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought
- Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently
- Enhanced beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment
In addition, they will manage pressures on the environment by:
- Mitigating and adapting to climate change
- Minimising waste
- Managing exposure to chemicals
- Enhancing biosecurity
Link Between Litter And Crime
Research has found a link between deprivation, crime, and litter. Individuals who live in the most deprived areas of England tend to have significantly less access to green spaces, than in wealthier areas. Green spaces in urban neighbourhoods often remain unused due to their poor quality. Often due to the perception of the areas being unsafe.
Poor levels of cleanliness have been found to be associated with an increase in social disorder and crime. Additionally, 28% of areas that were the most deprived fell below an acceptable standard for litter. It was found there was a higher crime rate in areas with rubbish, graffiti, and fly-posting, and less in the cleanest streets.
Tim Burns, from Keep Britain Tidy, commented “There’s a lot of evidence to show in a more littered environment, people are less helpful to each other. Crime breeds litter and it might be that litter breeds crime. The knock-on effect is that people don’t want to move there, and prices are reduced. If you clean up the neighbourhood, it can improve your bank balance.”
Litter & House Prices
First impressions are everything and a buyer can make their decision about buying your home in a matter of seconds. Mark Hayward, of the National Association of Estate Agents, commented “You buy with your heart, not your head, so first impressions are important. Impressions of a property are made in the first two minutes, so the street leading up to it can make the buyer say, no.”
A recent report has revealed that living in a neighbourhood that is scattered with litter can reduce your property price by 12%. On average this is a loss of around £21,000, caused simply by rubbish outside your home. Additionally, the report showed that a reduction in litter could also reduce crime levels.
Tim Burns, from Keep Britain Tidy, commented “When people are looking to buy a new home, they want to feel they are buying in a nice place, where the community is cared for. There’s a lot of evidence to show in a more littered environment people are less helpful to each other. Crime breeds litter and it might be that litter breeds crime. The knock-on effect is that people don’t want to move there, and prices are reduced. If you clean up the neighbourhood it can improve your bank balance.”
Research has found that malodours are a major environmental cause of public complaints and have a negative effect on the quality of life in affected communities. Alongside this, individuals report higher levels of health issues, including anxiety and stress. Research has found that 78% of home buyers are put off by bad smells in and around a home. Furthermore, it found that places such as landfill sites often exceed odour thresholds, potentially leading to further stress and anxiety amongst local populations.
Street cleansing is a service that is often overlooked and taken for granted. It involves a set of tasks concerning the cleanliness of streets. This includes pavements, adjoining edges of roads as well as grassed and planted areas. This often involves street sweeping using both manual, machine-based and electrical sweepers. Tasks could involve litter picking, the uplift of fly-tipped items, removal of flyposting and removal of graffiti.
When an area has an effective street cleaning service, it is barely noticed, however, when ineffective the evidence is visual and can be substantial. Therefore, leading to differences in quality of life and the overall aesthetic of towns and cities.
Clean Our Environment
There are a variety of things we can do as humans to ensure our streets, towns, cities, and countryside stay clean and hygienic for everyone:
- Dispose of rubbish responsibly including chewing gum
- Recycle when possible
- If you smoke dispose of the bud correctly
- If you can’t find a bin, take your rubbish home
- Dispose of larger items responsibly by taking them to your nearest waste recycling centre
- Report any concerns to your local council
- Join your local litter picking group
- Clean up after your dog correctly
- Speak up if appropriate if you see someone disposing irresponsibly
Litter is an avoidable problem, and we all have a responsibility to help address the issue. We cannot afford to take litter for granted. Our actions, or inaction, to fight litter affect all of us and will have an impact on generations that follow us.
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