Bath University News Release


10th March, 2009

Bath helps to tackle the Litterbugs

Press Release - 10 March 2009 Bath helps to tackle the Litterbugs

The University of Bath is playing a key role in trying to find a way to tackle the UK’s ever increasing problem of littering.

Alan Lewis is Professor of Economic Psychology at the University and is co-author of a new report - Litterbugs - which was launched in London today by Think Tank Policy Exchange and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The report sets out a number of key recommendations to co-ordinate the clean-up across the country and includes a combination of education, enforcement and incentive.

Professor Alan Lewis said: “Since the 1960s the amount of litter dropped annually has shot up by a staggering 500 per cent, and local authorities are left to foot a bill of an estimated £500 million a year to clean it up.

“Alongside these costs, companies in heavily littered areas are losing business and rubbish adds to an air of neglect in local communities, contributing towards increasing crime rates and anti-social behaviour.”

Through polling and in-depth interviews with local authorities, Professor Lewis and his colleagues discovered that one in five people admitted to having dropped litter in the last year, with young urban males more likely to do so than any other group in society.

The research also found that smokers have a very different attitude than non-smokers: 42 per cent of smokers think it is acceptable to drop litter compared with 16 per cent of non-smokers.

    People were significantly more relaxed about dropping litter in urban areas than in the countryside. Those without a strong sense of community were 10 per cent more likely to litter. Young people litter more when in groups.

“Littering is symptomatic of social and individual attitudes towards both public space and waste,” said Professor Lewis. “We found that the most common reasons for littering are that an area is already littered; cleaning up is perceived to be the responsibility of someone else; there are no bins or ashtrays nearby; people have biodegradable items they want to get rid of; or when there is no incentive to dispose of litter properly.

“Efforts to tackle litter should target each one of these causes in turn. In the UK this has not been done in a sufficiently determined or co-ordinated way.”

Using the research and drawing on examples of effective prevention from Australia and America, the Litterbugs report makes a number of recommendations. They include:

    The creation of a national body to co-ordinate anti-littering initiatives campaigns and programmes. The introduction of a national deposit scheme where people are paid to return their used containers to a designated area. New York State’s experience with deposit scheme has been overwhelmingly positive, the most tangible evidence of this being high levels of public support and dramatic falls in contained and drive-by litter. Taking account of litter and littering behaviour in the design of our public spaces – an intelligent approach to designing public spaces, bins and systems can yield reductions in littering without any increase in funding. Greater consistency in the application of penalties for littering across local authorities – too few local authorities fine, with only a small minority utilising the fining options available to them.

The Litterbugs report was launched in London by best-selling author and President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Bill Bryson.

He said: “This is a thought-provoking and challenging report on the litter problem that threatens to overwhelm our uniquely beautiful countryside.

“It identifies the lack of any systematic logic in enforcement policy. Fines are an essential enforcement tool, and one which needs to be applied far more consistently than is currently the case.

“As it also says, we need community buy-in to the fight against litter; we must build civic pride in clean and tidy environments, with communities competing to be spotless. Only then can we stop the exasperating and routine vandalism of a country so rich in natural, cultural and built heritage.”

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