What if dropping litter in the park was considered as taboo as smoking in indoor public places?

An opinion from Planet Earth Games Founder Chris Broadbent

Another lockdown bank holiday and another weekend of litter strewn across the country’s parks and beaches. London, Newcastle Nottingham, Sheffield and Widnes all hit the headlines for the wrong reasons for “litter-louts” going on “the rampage”.

So, what’s going on?

Littering is socially condemned. Do people tossing the rubbish care? Or just can’t be bothered to properly dispose their waste?

All surveys show that people – young and old – care about the environment more than ever before. It’s also well documented that most of the plastic the ends up in the ocean comes from the land. So, people care about the environment and understand the damage that litter can cause. It makes the increasingly familiar scenes so difficult to understand.

Is the scale of the litter a sign of a flawed national character? Are swathes of the public ultimately saying ‘Yes, we want the country to be more sustainable, but we are not willing to take responsibility for it.’?

If this is the case, it means we – organisations like Planet Earth Games who have a passion to act on climate change – have to work harder still instilling the cultural change required to drive behaviour change.

What are the solutions?

  1. Legislation?

In order to change human behaviour, do we need legislation to drive the change? For over 30 years, littering has been a criminal offence with a fine of up to £2500. But how often is that enforced?

  1. Litter management?

Do we also need better litter management? Are councils properly equipping public areas with sufficient bins for litter? Alongside images of littered landscapes over the weekend were plenty of overflowing bins, showing at least some intent to dispose of rubbish properly. Not everywhere can rely upon the environmental ingenuity shown by Leeds student Jack Colmer.

  1. Reduction of unnecessary waste?

Can we stop at the source – is there isn’t unnecessary waste in your product then there isn’t a rubbish problem. There is far too much plastic packaging entering the consumer marketing, with an estimated 2.2 million tonnes in the UK per year  – much of it in the food sector. Surely there is some bud-nipping that can be done to prevent the worst outcomes?

  1. A strong strategy

We need a stronger national strategy on littering. Yes, people must take responsibility, but the infrastructure must encourage people to make better choices. I think of the smoking ban as a model to follow.

Everyone knew that smoking was bad for them and much more likely to lead to severe life-threatening illness and premature death. But people still did it in their millions. The real step change came with the 2007 smoking ban, marking a cultural change that has driven down the number of smokers and smoking-related illnesses. Everyone knows that littering is bad for the environment. But people still do it in their thousands.

Littering needs its smoking ban moment.