What Everyone Should Know About The UK’s Litter Problem

Litter may not always be at the forefront of people’s minds in our busy modern world, however statistics – and sometimes a quick glance at the area around you – show that we really do need to take action on this growing problem in the UK. Whilst it is suggested by Keep Britain Tidy that 57% of people in our country believe that litter is a problem in their area, it is people who cause the problem in the first place. And what a big problem it has become.

The Cost of Litter

Clearing up the litter dropped in the streets and green spaces in England alone is costing the UK taxpayer £1 billion a year. In addition to that, Scotland spend £75 million on keeping their land litter-free too. This is money that shouldn’t really need to be spent, and money which could be much better spent on public services such as the NHS.

The Dangers of Litter

There are not just direct costs involved with the dropping of litter, but indirect ones too, such as: damage made to vehicle tyres, harm to animals, drain blockages causing floods and an increase in rat populations. This is of course just a few random examples; the scope for danger caused by litter is large.

Keep Britain Tidy’s 2013 litter survey listed mental health and wellbeing, crime rates, damage by vermin and road traffic accidents as examples of important things that litter can have a negative effect on. There are far too many to list here.

The RSPCA receives around 7000 calls a year regarding animals that have been injured by litter; this includes pets as well as wildlife.

The Hidden Litter Problem

Our nation has turned in to a mass of litterbugs; 62% of people in England drop litter, although only 28% will admit to it. The problem is that, with so much money being pumped in to keeping our streets clean, some areas are indeed very clean, meaning nobody sees the problem. Out of sight, out of mind.

Other areas, however, end up neglected, and with a limit on local funds they simply fill with litter. Even with the amount of money currently being spent on cleaning up the UK, there is still litter on the streets. Something needs to change – we need to stop dropping litter.

“It’s bad for the spirit to walk through filth. Littering is important. It’s disgraceful. Why should everyone live in a teenagers’ bedroom? Peek into a hedge here and it’s like a trash can…” – David Sedaris, comedian and litter campaigner, talking about litter in the UK

Problems With The Solutions

Street Litter

Local authorities are able to hand out fines for those they see dropping litter, however this solution has caused controversy as it has become more frequent in our towns and cities.

David Baker of Stourbridge in the West Midlands voluntarily collects litter 7 days a week for most of the year in his local area, but was recently handed a fixed penalty fine for fly-tipping due to placing a pizza box and a couple of his personal items of junk mail in a public litter bin.

Meanwhile, a woman in Smethwick – Vanessa Kelly – was fined for feeding the ducks in her local park, as this was seen as littering by the council warden who ‘caught’ her in the act. The warden allowed her child to carry on feeding though, as he was deemed too young to prosecute!

In theory the fines are a good idea, and should work as a preventative measure that puts people off littering and makes them think twice before dropping rubbish. However, as the above examples show, the definitions of littering and fly-tipping need to be generalised across the country in order for the system to be taken seriously.


There were only 2,000 convictions out of 825,000 reported cases of fly-tipping in the UK – and that is only the reported cases. With such poor rates of punishment with regards to fly-tipping, it is no surprise that people are continuing to do it.


As it stands the UK is paying way too much for a problem that is entirely avoidable. We need to work on methods of prevention, and renew our pride in our communities and ourselves.







Featured image credit: Pixabay

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.

7 thoughts on “What Everyone Should Know About The UK’s Litter Problem”

  1. Thank you very much for your insight on littering. This has helped me tremendously with my school project. Hopefully, with the help of the world, we can stop littering.

  2. It is so frustrating to see streets with plastic bottles and wrappers discarded. About an hour ago, I picked up a carrier bag full just around the corner; sadly It will be just as bad again in a day or so.
    Children need to be taught to see littering as anti social, as do adults.
    We need a campaign to educate. Scandi countries don’t have this problem, it comes down to attitudes and what matters to us all.

  3. We have a a Face Book Page for our town called Sleaford Be Litter Free, we pick litter, we lend litter grabbers to groups such as the wonderful Sleaford Striders athletics clubs Plogging group. We try to encourage people to pick litter and many do, groups and individuals. How do we stop people dropping litter, are there any practical things we can do. We are always seeking idea and looking for experts to help us.
    Very interesting blog thank you.
    Cigarette butts a particular problem in our town.

  4. Hi,
    I am a reporter for SR news, i am currently writing a piece on the fact that the Sunderland city council have cut air show funds to focus on littering and dog fouling any information you could provide would be helpful
    much appreciated

  5. Littering starts young and is endemic in our society. Dog fouling is now a predatory event by mainly masculine people refusing to pick up there pets waste. The school run and lunchtime children find the ally or green to consume their goods many walk the 10 – 30ft to the bin a few do not, it only takes a few. The evening romantic drive in the parks and disposal of the take away. Even delivery can be to a remote place today and that has a big disposal problem. Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians throw mostly unconsciously, drinks bottles of all kinds. Councils have stopped allowing DIY waste to profit that is pure kamikaze. In Australia 5 years ago driving on the west coast glass bottles strewn along the road side and that must have contributed to one of the worst disasters in their history. We can’t go green without taking the first steps it is not money. It is that all human beings must stop the waste and littering needs to come first. Buy a picker, pick it up and place it in or by a bin. Councils and law allow this until a time when bins can meet demand. I often place a bag by a bin of others rubbish if my own is in there to it is because my bin is full of mine and others waste. Allow positive headline press don’t just report it, pick it up. MPs you can carry and dispose of litter use an implement do not pick up broken glass report it and ensure a modicum of hygiene. Above all lets have positive advertisement with the fantastic people doing the pickup at the forefront. I have recently stopped putting litter by or in the bin and leave it to the side in piles I don’t know who but some are picking it up and the amount is reducing. Do not do the good deed of picking up the dog waste then disposing of the bag in a bush. Do not pick up waste use a device or at the very least gloves. Lets have along with RNLI a RWPI Boat or 2 and make up the last 50 years of seaway waste. Population is increasing to such an extent that sustainability can only come from huge change, litter is where to start. The source of manufacture must come second, the distribution third and the way we use it fourth. Fifth is to reduce population naturally before disaster and sixth is to change the big capitalist reduce their waste to equality not by percentage but by output you are the same human beings. Do not drive big cars do not drive over 50 MPH. Big manufacturers work in small hubs so distribution does not require large transport futuristic maybe but the internet works that way. Protesters you make a difference but I have not seen one pick up rubbish forgive me if it is the press not reacting. Do not protest in a Gas guslar. Money is what it is and money does a lot of cleaning; shame: I’m not against it, we need to support change and that by its nature will reduce as change happens allowing it to be diverted. I’m not just supporting NHS but all things that can support life on this planet if 8 Billion people can live why can’t the other species. I know we have exceeded our human numbers, to sustain humanity in the 22nd – apocalypse centuries it needs to be less probably half or even a 10th. The creation of life Human or other wise is mesmerising and wonderful. I love watching my daughter week by week as she grows with our grandson, proud and I know loving telling me of each weeks account before bringing him! into the world this year 2020. It is this above all that stops me from having any answer. So finally I only wish to say: Pick Up! your Litter! or anyone’s litter! that maybe in your path. For it is then that we have started down the road of true humanity.

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