Litter of the law - solving Wales's waste problem

Evidence suggests littering and fly-tipping have increased over the pandemic. Welsh Government is consulting on what can be done here in Wales to tackle our growing waste problem. Hannah and Bleddyn consider a range of solutions.

By Hannah Morris, volunteer, and Bleddyn Lake, Campaigns and Development Manager for Friends of the Earth Cymru

Litter has become one of these signs of modern life, hasn’t it? If we were to travel back to a time before plastic had been invented, what would our roads and beaches look like? If we were to hop in the same time machine and travel forwards in time, what will we find?

Will there still be litter everywhere or will it largely have become a thing of the past?

And how can we stop it from happening?

 

All we have to do is simply not chuck stuff on the ground.

Most litter comes from people just chucking whatever it is out of a car window or while walking around and some will be windblown from overflowing bins etc.

Given all the global challenges we are facing with climate change, biodiversity loss and habitat destruction, all we really have to do with litter is simply not chuck stuff on the ground. It’s not amazingly difficult, is it?

We’ve probably all become a little bit ‘litter-blind’ to the extent we don’t notice a lot of it.

 

 

Nearly £2M a year is spent clearing up fly-tipping.

In their consultation document, Welsh Government estimate the cost of litter and fly-tipping:

“Whilst the true financial cost of these environmental offences can be difficult to quantify, data collected in 2018/19 from Local Authorities indicates nearly £2 million was spent on clearing fly-tipping incidents and over £53 million was spent on street cleansing operations. Clearing litter and fly-tipping from our road networks is also expensive as traffic flow needs to be controlled to ensure safety for those undertaking the clearance. It is estimated removing this type of litter costs £2 million a year to clear. “

Independent consultancy Eunomia place the actual figure much higher and estimate that the

“disamenity of neighbourhood litter is of the order of £440 million per annum. This reflects the size of the ‘welfare gain’ that would be achieved under a zero litter situation.”

 

The success of placing a charge on single use plastic bags has had a huge effect in reducing the amount of these bags being used and has led to plastic bag litter being reduced too. It’s obvious and very noticeable. It’s not that long ago that the sight of plastic bags hanging off trees and bushes and tangled up in hedgerows was a common one. Nowadays it is a much rarer sight thankfully. This also probably points the way to how to deal with other litter.

We know from lots of studies that the main types of litter are food and drink wrappers and containers such as plastic bottles, single use takeaway cups, cans, sandwich packs, fast food packaging, crisp packets or chocolate wrappers.

Along our coastline we also see fishing industry- related items such as fishing lines, string and cordage. And the dreaded fag ends crop up in countless numbers everywhere!

Let’s look at each of these litter items and work out what intervention is needed to deal with that particular item.

 

1. Deposit Return Scheme

 

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drink containers would, for example, reduce the likelihood these single use items will end up as litter as they will have a price put on them and then be of value.

 

2. Latte levy

 

A latte levy on single use takeaway cups would encourage people to use reusable drinks containers instead, massively reducing the amount litter from these wasteful products.

 

3. Bans on single use plastic

And banning certain single use plastic items (as the Welsh Government plan to do) outright would take these out of circulation.

 

4. Smoking bans

For the litter items not covered by these interventions, it is important we work out what the solution is. For cigarette butts, for example, we would support Mark Drakeford’s idea (when he was running for the position of First Minister) of banning smoking in town and city centres.

 

5. Businesses should clean up outside property

We would also like to see businesses become responsible for keeping their outside property free from litter. Supermarkets, for instance, have large car parks which are often strewn with litter. This would reduce the amount of litter generally, changing the impression of an area from one where litter is everywhere to one which is quite clean and tidy which then reduces the likelihood of more litter being dropped.

There are also obviously other ideas and novel solutions that other areas are trialling and are worth looking at.

 

6. Extended Producer Responsibility

So where does fly-tipping come in? Research shows that a lot of fly-tipped waste generally consists of bulky household items that are defined as the things you would normally take with you when moving home.

If councils can’t afford to provide free collection services for these types of items, what are the likely options then for people? Take things to your local tip, pay the council to come and collect them, pay a licensed private company to dispose of them, pay an unlicensed company to dispose of them or fly-tip things yourself.    

As councils are strapped for cash, what is the answer? Longer term, the answer for us all could be moving to a hire system for white goods, sofas etc rather than a purchasing system. The companies involved would then take back the goods when they are no longer required, saving collection costs.

Another way we can help to solve our fly-tipping and littering problem is by making businesses responsible for all the costs associated with their products, including waste.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a strategy where producers take responsibility for the ‘stuff’ they produce once it has been used. EPR would shift responsibility from councils back on to the very companies that profit from selling us their stuff in the first place.

 

7. Right to repair

The newly announced ‘Right to Repair’ UK level legislation will also help to keep products in use longer as manufacturers will now be legally obliged to provide customers with spare parts for the products they buy so that they can be more easily repaired rather than being either too expensive or too difficult to repair at home.  

 

The near future

So, until an EPR comes in, what can we usefully do? One idea might be to make the collection of bulky waste free again. This would then remove the incentive to fly-tip or to employ unregulated operators to take away household goods and dispose of them.

How could we do this? Well, we can’t expect councils to find the extra money just like that so how can we fund it? One option might be to use a portion of something like the landfill tax or some of the money raised from a ‘Latte Levy’ and then give this to councils to be ring-fenced for this collection system.

The solutions we put in place over the next few years will hopefully lead to a future with an awful lot less litter and fly-tipped waste!

If you would like to see our consultation response, you can do so here.

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