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The litter problem posed by easing Covid restrictions

The litter problem posed by easing Covid restrictions

While it is encouraging to see so many areas of the UK slowly re-opening after lockdown, many of us will share a sense of disappointment and anger at scenes of litter being left on Britain’s beaches and in areas of natural beauty.

In a pattern repeated across many parts of the country, officials in Bournemouth reported that around 50 tonnes of litter was left on the town’s beach during the last weekend in June, compared with five tonnes on an average June day.

As lockdown eases further across the country and the summer holiday season approaches, many tourist hotspots are concerned about safely managing the influx of visitors – and the litter they may leave behind.

Why is litter increasing?

There’s no obvious single reason for the rise in littering that we have witnessed. It’s more likely to be a combination of factors.

  • Due to social distancing regulations, people are meeting outdoors more often, sometimes in places where there are no litter bins. It seems that instead of taking their litter home with them, a proportion of these people are leaving it in situ.
  • Prior to the 4th July opening of hospitality and food outlets, these organisations were only able to serve take away drinks and food - with the result that more people have been eating and drinking on the go – and sometimes dropping that litter in the street. For example, Salford council staff collected 200 tonnes more rubbish from the city’s parks and streets between 23rd March and 21st June than during the preceding year.
  • The use of items of PPE such as disposable face masks and gloves has also hugely increased. These items aren’t always being disposed of responsibly, creating an additional litter headache.
  • The use of packaging has increased during Covid as part of a drive to ensure health and safety standards are being maintained. Organisations are trying to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus through measures such as wrapping items individually and using disposable cups for take away drinks. As a result, there is a concern that the amount of single use plastic has increased during Covid-19 restrictions. The government has also delayed the introduction of its deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and the legal mandate to manufacturers that they should be using a minimum of 30% recycled plastic in packaging and bottles.
  • There may also be psychological factors at work. Professor Margareta James, a psychologist at The Harley Street Wellbeing Clinic, suggests that after being confined to their homes for so many weeks, people feel a lack of accountability for open spaces. She says: “People feel so disconnected from public places that they don’t actually take ownership for clearing up their mess.” She also believes it could be an act of rebellion and an expression of frustration at the unfamiliarity with having such restrictions imposed on daily life. “This could be a subconscious way to break out of the “forced- upon” compliance they had to adhere to.”

What help is there for tackling litter?

Organisations such as Keep Britain Tidy can help support councils and businesses with litter problems through a range of paid for services such as surveys and data collection. They also produce free resources such as a series of materials to help local authorities spread the message about litter. The campaign includes resources to deter fly tipping and to encourage the disposal of PPE as well as materials that urge people to take their litter home with them when out and about.

The rescheduled Great British Spring Clean is also due to go ahead between 111h and 27th September. Activities suggested include organising a private clean-up with up to six family and friends or pledging to carry out an individual clean-up. The campaign is important in raising awareness of the problems caused by littering as well as helping to actively clean up parts of the UK.

Reviewing your litter facilities

While local authorities certainly have a lot on their plates during Covid-19, with the change in public habits and the way that public spaces are laid out and used, it makes sense to review how litter bins and recycling facilities are being used as well as looking at the location and number of bins available. It may be that these need to change while restrictions around Covid remain in place.

Local authorities have worked hard throughout the crisis to maintain litter collection across households. Although the collection of on-the-go litter proved harder to maintain with higher rates of staff absence and the demands of social distancing, most services are now running at full or almost full capacity. It is also to be hoped that people will be so shocked by the images of litter strewn beauty spots that they will adopt a more responsible attitude to litter disposal going forward.

Got a litter problem? Call Amberol on 01773 830 930 or email sales@amberol.co.uk to see how we can help.

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