The Policy Exchange think tank has recently published its “Litterbugs” report on how to deal with littering. The seven key recommendations are :

1. The re-establishment and reform of ENCAMS as the national body responsible for coordinating anti-littering initiatives, campaigns and programmes
2. The development of a permanent educational campaign with a consistent message to target littering
3. The provision of bins and ashtrays in strategic sites
4. The introduction of a national deposit scheme
5. Taking account of litter and littering behaviour in the design of our public spaces
6. Greater consistency in the application of penalties for littering across local authorities
7. The creation of a new Environmental Advisory Service to promote effective knowledge sharing

There is nothing particularly controversial in Policy Exchange’s recommendations. Some of what they propose is already well underway. For example, ENCAMS (ENvironmental CAMpaignS), which runs the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign, is making huge strides forward under its new Chief Executive, Phil Barton, who has now been leading the organisation for a year. Among other things, Keep Britain Tidy have introduced the excellent Big Tidy Up campaign to revive the “spring clean” concept and to encourage more people to get out there and clean up their neighbourhood.

The most controversial recommendation is probably the bottle deposit scheme idea. This concept appears intuitively sensible to the vast majority of us (and there are those of us who remember the days when you could return your bottles and reclaim the deposit) but there are strong pockets of resistance that claim that bottle deposit schemes don’t work – and the drinks industry is, not surprisingly, strongly against bottle deposits. Government has, so far, seemed reluctant to pursue the idea.

One aspect, though, which was not highlighted by Policy Exchange, is the significant and often undervalued contribution of volunteers. Volunteers have a huge part to play on the litter stage, not only by picking up litter from their surroundings but also by the subtle message that doing so sends out to other people. Seeing volunteers picking up litter makes people realise that this is something that they, too, can do and reminds them that dropping litter is not a positive action. Volunteer activity also gives people a golden opportunity to get involved in tackling the issue themselves and so feel that they are part of something worthwhile.

So, amid all the sensible suggestions of bottle deposits, positioning of litter bins, fines, design of public places and organisations that educate, campaign and coordinate on litter issues, let’s not forget the invaluable contribution of litter volunteers. Their efforts from the bottom up are a vital complement to all these other “top-down” initiatives.

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