Litter is one of those issues that politicians find easy to ignore. In some ways, it’s easy to see why: cigarette butts and plastic bags seem trivial in the great scheme of things. But the litter-picking heroes I have been lucky enough to meet through the Campaign to Protect Rural England know that we must take care of the small problems as well as the big ones – to prevent them becoming insurmountably large as well.
This is what has happened with litter. Despite our heroes, the cost of clearing up litter and fly-tipping in England has risen to £1bn a year. And yet our leaders are still reluctant to address the problem. Do they think it’s OK to waste a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money every year?
With only 2,000 convictions out of 825,000 reported cases of fly-tipping, it’s little wonder the vandals are confident they will get away with it – just like the motorists who chuck their rubbish out of the car window rather than taking it home.
But after today’s Communities and Local Government Committee report on litter and fly-tipping, things may be about to change – because the report recommends giving councils greater powers to punish such behaviours.
The committee has also realised that it’s time for a comprehensive national litter strategy. But punishing litterers can only ever be a part of the solution. What is needed is a campaign to change behaviour, with sustained investment. As advocated by the Break the Bag Habit coalition, why not get it off to a solid start by funding it with a month’s proceeds from the new carrier bag charge, signed off in Parliament last week?
Eradicating litter won’t just save millions and restore the beauty of our countryside, it will restore and refresh our pride in our communities, and encourage the adoption of more sustainable lifestyles. We don’t need another five years of debate. We need decisive action now.
Sir Andrew Motion is president of the Campaign to Protect Rural EnglandReuse content