Can we just get on with the litter strategy?
THIS magazine has been a consistent campaigner on litter. Our Clean for the Queen campaign last year galvanised people all over the country in a grand tidy-up that also involved the CPRE, the WI and Keep Britain Tidy. It therefore comes as no surprise that Agromenes welcomes the first Government commitment to a long-term litter strategy, which Lord Gardiner, the Defra minister responsible, unveiled last week.
Not before time, you may say. England is an increasingly filthy place and nowhere more so than some of the most frequented beauty spots in the countryside. Like most country people, Agromenes needs regular litter picks to gather the beer cans, cartons and plastic dropped by motorists into his fields. He’s not at all surprised to find that 30 million tons of rubbish are collected from our roads and streets every year nor that surveys suggest the amount of litter left on our beaches has doubled in the past 15 years.
It’s ironic that, just as we clean up the sea in which we bathe, so, increasingly, we foul up the beaches from which we swim. Now that Surfers Against Sewage and the EU Bathing Water Directive have forced successful marine improvement, can the National Litter Strategy do the same on the land?
There are certainly some very good ideas in Defra’s plan: getting Highways England to target the 25 dirtiest places in order to make a longterm difference; gathering the best advice for a sustained assault on the worst kind of litter; and encouraging community service to be used for cleaning up and supporting innovative local community efforts to combat littering. All these are useful initiatives, as is the commitment to a national anti-littering campaign in 2018 and the decision to ban local councils from charging for domestic DIY household waste brought to civic collection sites.
However, one can’t avoid the feeling that every single measure has been wrung out of a reluctant Government by an energetic and enthusiastic Minister. There is little evidence that politicians and civil servants are really prepared to tackle the problem head on. Why are we consulting on raising the fine for littering to £150 instead of simply imposing it? How come the Government has avoided implementing the law against litter-dropping from cars until now? It’s a scandal that Lord Marlesford’s Act was passed by Parliament in May 2015, but never implemented by Government. Now, when it’s short of a policy, it’s trying to take credit for bringing in the very scheme it resolutely blocked for two years!
There’s so much more that could be done. Why no consultation on getting chewing-gum manufacturers to pay serious amounts for cleaning up their filthy discards? Where’s the debate on returnable bottles so we’re encouraged to take back the empties? Above all, why is there clearly no real determination to enforce the law? Unless it’s made a priority for police action, it won’t happen. We need on-the-spot fines, with the proceeds going to education and publicity. We should insist that accompanying adults are responsible for children’s littering. Of course, lots of people will continue to get away with their dirty habits, but when everyone knows someone who’s been charged and fined heavily, then we’ll all take notice.
Changing the culture is a tough job in a nation that litters more than most of its neighbours, but if there were a real will, it would happen. Our green and pleasant land shouldn’t be despoiled by the litter louts. This National Strategy is a start—but only a start. The Government should give Lord Gardiner the tools to finish the job.
‘Changing the culture is a tough job in a nation that litters more than its neighbours