Archive for the ‘CleanupUK’ Category

Litter can encourage community tension

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

An MP from Newcastle has raised an interesting consequence that may result from the presence of litter.

Chi Onwurah is Newcastle’s first black MP – she represents Newcastle Central for Labour and is Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. The background to her remarks is an increase in litter and fly-tipping in the city as a result, she thinks, of a move to fortnightly bin collections, a reduction in the number of street wardens, extended routes for street cleaning crews and pressures on the Council’s response service.

The worrying consequence of all this, says Onwurah, is that her constituents increasingly associate the problems of increased litter and fly-tipping with different ethnic groups.

This is indeed a worrying development and does nothing for the cohesion and connection of local communities. It is sadly part of human nature to blame other people for one’s community’s problems. One doesn’t have to think too far back in history to encounter minorities that were horrendously persecuted as the scapegoats of a society’s ills, more often than not without any factual justification whatsoever.

I firmly believe, though, that the remedy for this damaging mentality is to work quickly to bring the different elements of a community together so that they understand each other better and so diffuse any potential ill-feeling or blame.

That is what CleanupUK is trying to achieve on our Beautiful Boroughs Project in east London, in which we bring together different people from within a community to litter-pick together in their area so as to strengthen the feeling of community and, thereby, to make the community both stronger and safer. The feedback we have received from participants on the project not only shows a strong feeling of increased community spirit but also a better sense that people really can have an influence over what happens in and to their community.

And, if Chi Onwurah is right in what she says, that is exactly what seems to be needed so badly in Newcastle – to dilute, if not eliminate, what could be an extremely destructive anti-minority attitude.

Crime and litter – a closer connection

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

At last – the Holy Grail that many of us have been searching for – a clear connection between the presence of litter and the incidence of crime in an area.

What am I talking about ? Well, our old friends Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) have just published the 2013/2014 Local Environment Quality Survey for England (LEQSE). They have introduced a new and fascinating dimension to the survey this year.

What KBT have done is to map the risk of crime onto the incidence of litter in the areas surveyed. They have done this using the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, produced by the Office of National Statistics every year.

The results are crystal clear – the most littered areas of our country are also the areas most prone to crime.

That in itself lends strong justification to everyone’s efforts to keep their community free of litter. If you remove the litter, you remove the potential for crime.

But, before I get completely carried away, there is still one more question that needs to be asked before we can be completely satisfied that litter predisposes to crime. And that is the question of what, if any, is the causal link between litter and crime.

In the 2013/2014 LEQSE, the wording used by KBT to refer to the litter-crime connection is carefully chosen. “Risk of crime” and “fear of crime” are the terms used. There is a difference between these and the actual incidence of crime as a result of an area being littered, albeit that some suggest that fear of crime can be as corrosive as crime itself.

So perhaps more work is still needed before we can totally understand whether there is a causal link between the presence of litter and the presence of crime. But we are nearly there and I say “well done” to Keep Britain Tidy for that.

Litter Picket

Friday, October 31st, 2014

A new term has entered the community activism arena – we’ve been litter-picking and we’ve had litter picks for many a year but we’ve now got the “litter picket”. Yes – a new approach in communities’ struggles to keep where they live clean and safe.

We owe this innovation to the gallant people of Easton in Bristol. The people of Easton, assisted by the charity Up Our Street (whose photo is shown below), held their litter picket outside Easton Leisure Centre in an attempt to get people to make an effort to keep their community clean and tidy.

Stapleton Road litter picket 14 Oct 14

It seems that the introduction of communal bins led to people using them to get rid of larger items (such as unwanted furniture and sofas) which could have been recycled.

The message that they wanted to get across to the perpetrators was that “people are sick of this mess and there should be more respect for keeping the streets clean and tidy”.

It was notable that the council’s street cleansing contractor, May Gurney, and indeed the City Council itself were not singled out for criticism : “they are doing their best – this is more about urging residents to make sure they get rid of their rubbish properly”.

The litter picket, along with the other elements in the campaign (such as articles in the press and on blogs, reporting litter and fly-tipping to the council and posting pictures of litter and fly-tipping on Twitter accounts) has had a good effect and has seen a reduction in the amount of fly-tipping in the area. It has spawned Twitter frenzy with the hash tag #tidyBS5 and there will even be a local Litter Summit to get people involved.

So I take my hat off to you, people of Easton. You have not only introduced a new term into our language – you have also inspired us all to think how we could make use of the “litter picket” concept for changing the attitude and behaviour of people in our communities.

Making it easy for communities ?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

CleanupUK’s mission is to bring about stronger, safer and integrated communities by involving people in litter-picking activity. We believe fervently that it must be made easy for communities to come together to take action of this kind. The benefits of doing so (a stronger, safer community with happier, friendlier people in it) are much too important to be sacrificed in favour of caution or over-protectiveness.

But that, it seems, is exactly what was in danger of happening in Derby recently. People in the Normanton area of the city had been collecting litter for a number of years. As part of a council-backed network, the Normanton Empowerment Team were issued with a small number of litter-picking sticks and put them to good use. So far so good……..

But then something rather sad happened. The Council informed the group that, under health and safety legislation, it had no choice but to order them to down tools as they had not been trained to use them. One of the residents made the rather interesting remark that the Council still expected them to use wheelie bins but that the Council hadn’t provided training on using them. “I feel that the Council is doing everything it can to deter us from carrying on as a group but it is not going to stop us”, one member of the group commented.

Another point made by the residents was that they would stop using the Council’s equipment if it was necessary for all users to have training. They want as many people as possible to be involved and this would make it more difficult if they all had to go through a training process prior to using litter-picking equipment.

The Council’s response was that, while the local authority wanted people to help keep their streets clean, there were dangers and it was legally obliged to train them if they were using Council equipment. “With litter, there could be needles in what they pick up or large items could be heavy”, the council spokesman said. The team were, apparently, allowed to hold onto the litter-picking sticks until they could be trained how to use them properly.

Apart from the Normanton residents’ own disbelief at what had happened, there were a few fruity comments posted by others who read this news on the Daily Mail’s website. A few of the more repeatable ones are :

“I might just start dropping litter and, if I’m told to pick it up, I’ll tell them I can’t on the grounds of health and safety”.

“It’s part of the British Constitution that anything is legal unless there is a law forbidding it. Unfortunately, EU law is the reverse – everything is illegal unless the law says it isn’t”.

“Please, somebody – tell me you’re making this up”.

I would add that thousands of volunteers all round the UK borrow litter-picking sticks from their local council on a regular basis and are trusted by their council to use them safely and sensibly. Of course, there are dangers in litter-picking and you need to be sensible about how you go about it but there are limits……

But, I am delighted to say, the story had a very happy ending. Local landlords and letting agents, Propertywise, have paid for the Normanton Empowerment Team to have their own equipment.

Michelle Gardiner, a landlord of several properties in the Normanton area, was among those who contributed to the cost. She said: “I think the area needs some help and the team are doing a great job. What happened with the council is sad.”

So please, local councils, cherish and encourage the voluntary activity of your local people and don’t let anything get in the way of their magnificent contribution to making their communities cleaner, safer and stronger.

Does litter increase the crime rate ?

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

There has been much assertion of the link between the presence of litter and the presence of crime. Of particular interest has been research carried out by on the link between litter and fear. In a 2007 research paper, ‘The Elements and Prevalence of Fear’ written by Jonathan Shepherd and Simon Moore of Cardiff University, litter was positively associated with fear of crime and fear of personal harm. This was followed up by Jonathan Shepherd’s letter to The Times in 2008 which held that “A disfigured environment sends messages that personal disfigurement may be next. Since fear of crime can be as corrosive as crime itself, litter disposal is likely to make us all feel safer”.

But there has, as far as I am aware, been no formal exploration in the UK of the causal link between the presence of litter and the presence of crime.

So I am indebted to Chris Sherrington of the Bristol-based research organisation, Eunomia, for bringing to my attention a piece of research from the US that comes the closest that I can find to a scientific attempt to show a link between litter and crime.

The study was carried out in 2004 in Lowell, Massachusetts. 34 crime hot spots were chosen and grouped into pairs. These hotspots accounted for 23.5% of the total crime and disorder emergency phone calls made to the police department but accounted for only 2.7% of the total area the police department covered. So these hotspots represented high concentrations of crime.

Over the year of the trial, one hotspot area of each pair was kept cleaned up and the other (the control area) was left untouched. The areas that were cleaned up saw a 19.8% reduction in phone calls to the police with no associated increase in surrounding areas i.e. crime and disorder was not simply being displaced to another area. What is more, the cleaned up areas saw a 26.8% reduction in litter after the trial ended compared to an 11.4% increase in litter in the control areas.

One has to struggle a bit to read behind the academic language of the study (“a mediation analysis of the isolated and exhaustive causal mechanisms that comprised the strategy revealed that the strongest crime-prevention gains were generated by situational prevention strategies rather than by misdemeanor arrests or social service strategies”) but that does not negate the fascinating result.

This is, to my mind, a very important trial. If its findings are replicable, it will show that keeping an area free of litter will indeed mean a reduction in crime and antisocial behaviour. And, what is more, there was evidence that crime reduced rather than simply being shifted into a different neighbourhood.

So I am hoping that we can arrange for a similar trial to be carried out in the UK so that we can try to validate the previously anecdotal evidence that if you keep your community free of litter, then it will help to keep it free of crime too.

Are litterers worse than bankers ?

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Would it ever have occurred to you to compare litterers with bankers ? Perhaps not – and perhaps you might think that would be a bit of an insult to litterers…….

Anyway, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, did make just such a comparison. Her point was that bankers need greater social consciousness in the way that people have, in her view, developed an increased environmental consciousness over the past few years resulting in littering becoming less commonplace.

Those of us who expend our efforts in the litter arena might disagree with Mrs Lagarde that people’s attitudes to littering have changed significantly over recent years, but there has certainly been progress in some areas, especially that of dog poo.

Michael Skapinker, who has written about litter before, made some interesting observations about Christine Lagarde’s views in the Financial Times. Skapinker points out that, of the 3 main types of litterer (those who drop food wrappers and cigarette ends in the street, those who don’t clean up after their dogs and those who throw rubbish out of car windows) the first two have reduced their littering because their chances of being spotted or even being caught and fined are high.

Skapinker thinks that bankers are most like litterers from vehicles as this type of littering occurs in relative privacy. Honest bankers find it difficult to object to colleagues’ misbehaviour, not least because whistle-blowers are not treated kindly. Bankers can retreat to their offices and trading floors and their financial rewards provide comfort. The only way to deal with errant bankers, like those who litter from vehicles, is to catch and punish them.

Skapinker’s conclusion is that in finance, just as for littering, punishment and public shaming are more likely to be effective deterrents and more effective than simply hoping for an increase in social consciousness.

I reckon that Michael Skapinker is right in most of what he says but I do think he feels that catching and punishing litterers is easier than it really is. I would guess that effective industry regulation and effective compliance by banks could make a huge difference to bankers’ behaviour as it would make bankers’ transgressions easier to detect. Compare that to the world of litter where we already have effective laws (regulation) but where it is enforcement (compliance) that is so challenging because you have to catch the litterer actually in the process of littering to be able to impose a fine. In an ideal world, that would necessitate the employment of huge numbers of enforcement officers to witness litterers in action. At least most banking transactions leave some kind of audit trail. Perhaps the conclusion that we might come to is that cleaning up the banking sector ought to be a whole lot easier than cleaning up our verges. Or do you have an imaginative and creative idea to prove me wrong ? If you do, please share it with us in the comments section below.

Confronting litterers Indian style

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

I have written before about confronting litterers and how I am unashamedly cautious when people ask me “how should I confront someone who I see littering ?”. My usual response to the enquirer is “if in doubt, then don’t confront” as, in my view, putting yourself in physical danger for the sake of a piece of litter is just not worth it. That said, I’m sure that we all take our hats off to the likes of Alice Arnold and Boris Johnson who have successfully and very publicly challenged people they have seen throwing litter in the street.

I would now like to throw a slightly different perspective on this issue. I recently came across a group from India calling itself Awkwardness Unlimited. Their stock in trade is to “push the boundaries and take members of the public on an unexpected journey of flat outright awkwardness”. This involves them in “crazy pranks, hilarious reactions and awkward moments” – a touch of Candid Camera with an Indian flavour, perhaps.

But Awkwardness Unlimited are not in the business just of trivia and comedy moments. They also list social experiments and social awkwardness as part of their remit. And that’s where their “Stop it ! Do something !” video comes in. The link to this video is here – do have a look at all 4½ minutes of it.

The video challenges the status quo whereby few people in India seem to be prepared to challenge people who litter. And, in India, it isn’t just littering that is the problem. “Peeing in public” as they charmingly call it is endemic and Awkwardness Unlimited’s previous video entitled “The Pissing Tanker” (click here) highlighted this issue. I urge you to watch this very short (1½ minute) film too – it may make you laugh. It shows what I think must be one of the best examples of “let the punishment fit the crime” that you can ever dream of.

Anyway, back to “Stop it ! Do something !”. The team went about deliberately chucking litter on the roads to see what people’s reaction would be. Predictably, not one person challenged the litterer, not even a couple of policemen. In fact, in the night sequence at the end, the policemen even gave them permission to chuck their litter on the ground.

Was this surprising ? Well, you could reasonably conclude that it wasn’t, given the accepted norms in this wonderful, huge and, at times, chaotic country. The presence of litter bins is sporadic to say the least and there is less social pressure against littering than there is in the UK.

But these guys still felt the urge to make this film and they felt strongly enough about the issue to hope that their social experiment would make a difference in changing people’s behaviour.

It’s interesting to see the readers’ comments posted below the original article. There is lamenting of the absence of civic pride, criticism of government, criticism of the state that public urinals are kept in and of the low number of urinals and litter bins and, finally, disappointment at the lack of education in schools on these issues.

Is this all so different from where we live ? It may be so on the question of scale but I’m not so sure that India’s problems are otherwise that different from our own. The comforting point is that, in both India and in the UK, there are plenty of people who care about their littered country and want to do something to change it. If it were not so, then THAT would be a situation without hope.

And if you enjoyed both these films, do please think about how we can use the outstanding example of The Pissing Tanker to devise creative tactics and approaches to dissuade people from littering………..

Dirty movies

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

I have just seen such a brilliant short film about littering that I can’t resist the temptation to tell you all about it.

It was made by Thomas Black, a retired Yorkshire businessman, who persuaded Leeds-based film-maker David Varley to shoot the film at Denton, near Ilkley. Thomas was just fed up with seeing his neighbourhood spoilt by litterers and fly-tippers and so decided that he would do something a little different to highlight this issue.

The short film (a couple of minutes long) that he has come up with has, for those of us who battle against the seemingly never-ending tide of litter, a refreshing approach, depicting what, I feel sure, many of us would LOVE to do to a litterer (I’m not going to spoil the ending for you by revealing it). Do have a look at it by clicking here.

Which leads me to ask what other good films there are out there using a touch of humour to support us in our efforts.

Three other excellent examples spring to mind. First, the wonderfully creative pair of French films by Mathieu Labelle showing some extraordinary skills for getting your litter into a bin. The result is (literally) magic and will surely appeal to younger people along the lines of “what is the coolest way that you can get your empty drink can into the bin ?”. Do have a look at them here and here.

Another series of films I have come across are the endearing cartoons of KAB Man commissioned by Keep America Beautiful. Our trusty superhero takes on all forms of challenges, with a willingness and enthusiasm that seems (eventually) undaunted by any obstacle placed in his way – click here to see it.

Keep Britain Tidy has also commissioned a number of films over the past years, the most amusing of which is probably “Don’t be a gimp” with its rather dark warning about what can happen to you if you don’t put your litter into a bin : see it here.

So – do you know of any other anti-litter films that we can publicise and use to get the message across in a humorous way ? If you do, please share them with us in the comments section below. Thank you !

Litter and crime

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Every now and then I read research showing that the presence of litter predisposes an area to the incidence of crime. There are sometimes dramatic conclusions reached.

‘The Elements and Prevalence of Fear’ written in 2007 by Professor Jonathan Shepherd and Simon Moore of Cardiff University, showed that as people’s perceptions of neighbourhood decline increase, so too does crime, and just as devastating, fear of crime. Litter, they claimed, was positively associated with fear of crime and personal harm. Professor Shepherd added, in a separate comment : “a disfigured environment sends messages that personal disfigurement may be next. Since fear of crime can be as corrosive as crime itself, litter disposal is likely to make us all feel safer”. And the Commission on Integration and Cohesion for its 2007 report, ‘Our Shared Future’, found that “factors such as litter and broken glass are seen as signs that people do not care about an area, or about each other “. That isn’t perhaps strictly related to the local crime figures, but it’s a pretty depressing claim.

I am really interested in the link between the presence of litter and the presence of crime and, just as importantly, the presence of litter and the fear of crime and the related feeling of not being safe. After all, is there a huge difference to the human mind between being terrified by crime having been committed and being terrified by the possibility that crime might be committed ? Don’t both scenarios cause us humans a considerable amount of mental agony ?

I want to explore the question of whether the presence of litter in their area makes people feel unsafe and, the flip-side of this particular coin, whether removing the litter from a badly-littered area does, in fact, make people feel safer.

So this issue is, in effect, on two levels – first, on the ground and in an objectively-measured way, whether it is the case that less litter equals less crime and, second, more subjectively, whether less litter equals people FEELING safer.

I would very much appreciate your help with this knotty problem, please. What do these issues mean to you ? Whether you live in a rural village or in an inner-city area, how do you feel about the presence (or absence) of litter in terms of feeling safer or not feeling safer ?

The reason that I think that this is such a key question is that, if it can be shown that there is a strong link between the presence of litter and both the presence of crime and/or the fact of people feeling less safe, then there is an even more compelling argument for getting rid of the litter in an area quickly. Simply claiming that “litter spoils the look of an area” isn’t any longer a strong enough reason to remove it urgently from certain areas. But if we can show that the presence of litter has a negative psychological effect on people who live in the area and also, perhaps, makes them more vulnerable to crime, then how can we possibly take any view other than that litter simply MUST be removed as urgently as possible, particularly from inner-city areas where its effects may be most damaging.

So – do please leave a comment below and let me know how litter or its removal affects your feelings of safety and vulnerability.

Littering types

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

I am always fascinated by the reasons why people drop litter. Many people I talk to tend to ascribe just one motive to everyone “It’s anger”, says one; “it’s laziness”, says another; “it’s lack of education”, says someone else. Who is right ?

Well, Keep Britain Tidy has researched this issue a number of times over the last few years and they have devised 6 labels for the various types of litterer that give a clue as to why they litter.
The ironically-titled Beautifully Behaved, for instance, don’t really think they are littering at all – they drop apple cores, fruit peel and small pieces of paper. Of course, you and I know that those items really do count as litter (except if you are discarding an apple core into a countryside hedge for the local wildlife to finish off).

The Guilty know full well what they are doing – when they can’t be bothered to find a bin, they hide their drink can in a drain pipe or scrunch their crisp packet up into a small knot and thrust it into a crevice.

On the other hand, the Blamer is angry and blames the council for the lack of bins while dropping their litter.

The Justifier thinks a bit harder and concludes that, well, everyone else litters so why shouldn’t I ?

The Life’s Too Short litterer tends to be younger – they know that littering is wrong but they have other priorities in their lives other than making the effort to get to a bin.

Finally, and much the most difficult one to influence, is the Am I Bothered ? (we owe Catherine Tate a debt of gratitude for the title).

I do think that those 6 labels pretty much cover all motivations to litter – or can you think of any more ? Keep Britain Tidy didn’t do this categorisation just for fun – they also suggested that the various remedies available should be matched to the type of litterer e.g. to stop the Blamer blaming, you need to ensure that there are enough bins around.

So it was with some amusement that I came across an alternative litterer classification which I think was devised by Australia’s Beverage Industry Environment Council for a campaign aimed at getting the message across to young children. They came up with 8 different types of litterbug.

So let’s meet the Foul Shooting Litterbug – their aim isn’t good and when they throw their litter towards a bin and when it misses, they just walk away.

How about the Clean Sweeping Litterbug ? They arrive at a table where others have left their rubbish and sweep the leftovers onto the floor.

And then there’s the Flagrant Flinging Litterbug – they simply fling their litter through the air or drop it, without a care in the world.

The 90%ing Litterbug isn’t very good at finishing the job – they put most of their rubbish into the bin but some of it never completes the journey and is dropped and left where it lies.

The Wedging Litterbug is very much the Guilty litterer – they stuff pieces of litter into the gaps between seats on public transport and in other covert places.

Now for smokers – many of these are Grinding Litterbugs. They grind their cigarette butts into the ground.

Have you ever seen an Inching Litterbug – they leave their litter and then slowly move away from it.

Finally, the gloriously-named Undertaking Litterbug. They bury their litter, often in the sand on the beach.

So what does this all tell us ? Well, for a start that there is more than one way that you can look at littering. And I would also suggest that giving labels to the different types not only increases our understanding and awareness of littering (and may help to suggest how to deal with each type) – it also makes it more fun and more interesting, especially for younger people.

And have you got your own labels that you give to different types of litterer ? If so, do let us know by leaving a comment below.