VILLAGERS across the Chilterns turned out in force to fight back against litter louts and fly-tippers this weekend.
Volunteers of all ages turned out to clean up hedgerows, streets and paths around Cookham, Wooburn Green and Fulmer, with many other communities planning similar spring clean-ups.
In Cookham and Cookham Dean some 80 villagers came together to clean up across four locations, aged from three to 75+.
Organiser Jus Moody said the clean-up included a “disgusting fly tip” on Cookham Dean Common comprising whole car panels, wheel trims and even an entire lamppost.
She said: “We have no explanation for this or the hundreds of coffee cups, pieces of food packaging or other weird items that folks think they’re entitled to dispose of in our village hedgerows.”
In nearby Wooburn Green, Karen Savage Townsend praised the efforts of more than 140 litter pickers who managed to fill some 87 bags of rubbish during a day-long community clean-up.
And in Fulmer village, another village team of conservation volunteers were busy clearing rubbish off Stoke Common Road, Fulmer Road and part of Fulmer Common Road, their haul ranging from discarded face marks, alcohol bottles and cans to car parts.
The clean-ups came as Iceland supermarket boss Sir Malcolm Walker said the rise in litter was making Britain look ‘like an impoverished Third World country’, where thoughtless drivers tossing litter out of windows were among the worst culprits.
The 75-year-old was quoted in the Daily Mail in the run-up to a nationwide litter-picking event organised by Keep Britain Tidy, which starts on May 28.
But local campaigners want to see more done to tackle the upsurge in littering, from tougher punishments to launching a nationwide deposite return scheme and insisting on fast food retailers printing car registration numbers on packaging.
Enforcement officers like David Rounding have had considerable success in ensuring Buckinghamshire has a zero-tolerance approach to illegal waste dumping, but the scale of the problem can sometimes seem relentless and some local farmers feel under siege.
Long-time campaigners like Peter Silverman, John Read and Danny Lucas have repeatedly called on individual councils and bodies like Highways England to do more to fulfil their legal responsibilities, a view echoed by Sir Malcolm Walker, who urged the public to put pressure on elected officials to clean up roadsides, and backed tough action against countryside litterers.
More than 6,000 members have signed up to a Facebook group representing litterpicking groups across the UK, but while many remain upbeat and determined, others have confessed to feelinhg“disheartened, dispirited and disgusted” after seeing crowds trash popular parks and beaches during rare breaks between lockdowns.
“DISHEARTENED, dispirited and disgusted”. Britain’s army of volunteer litterpickers have been feeling under siege since lockdown…
Peter Ryan, founder of the Dorset Devils (@dorsetdevils), a 600-strong litterpicking group on the Dorset coast, summed up the mood in a letter to his local paper, the Daily Echo.
The problem has been worse since lockdown, he says – with vast numbers of beach visitors leaving their rubbish behind them, now increasingly including face masks, disposable gloves, wet wipes and gel bottles, some of which could be infected.
It’s a horror story which has been repeated around the country – and exhausted and dispirited locals are at their wits’ end.
From Scotland and the Lake District to Cornwall and the Jurassic coast of Dorset, beaches, parks and other public spaces have been besieged on a daily basis, with councils and volunteer clean-up crews struggling to keep pace with the deluge, especially around popular beauty spots.
With temperatures soaring and lockdown restrictions eased, many families have headed to the beach to enjoy the sunshine, with the tabloids showing crowded scenes at tourist hotspots like Southend, Brighton and Bournemouth.
Despite pleas from local councils and frustrated residents, much of their rubbish has been left behind. As one Brighton resident wrote: “Brighton beach is an absolute state yet again this morning. It’s very sad. Apart from being lazy and gross it’s detrimental to our environment and wildlife.”
In Bournemouth council leader Vikki Slade said she was “absolutely appalled” at some of the scenes witnessed on local beaches.
Further along the coast local litter-picker Anna Lois Taylor (@annieloistaylor) tweeted: “So much litter. I’m done sacrificing my own time to clean up an area that’s repeatedly abused. We cleared it yesterday evening and returned today to find ourselves right back at the beginning. I cried all the way home.”
Elsewhere locals reported finding discarded tents, human excrement and the debris from family picnics and birthdays – including disposable barbecues that could pose a major fire risk in wooded areas.
In Cornwall, environmentalist Emily Stevenson (@PlasticWaive) spoke about finding 171 pieces of PPE discarded on the ground during a one-hour litter pick, compared to six items previously.
Meanwhile over in Ipswich, wildlife enthusiast Jason Alexander (@WildlifeGadgets, @UKrubbishwalks) was up at 6am clearing Bramford Meadows of litter after a group of young adults spent an enjoyable day drinking, having fun and some somersaulting off the bridge into the river.
Unfortunately little attempt to clean up after themselves, he says. “There desperately needs to be a serious national discussion to try to tackle the issue of littering and large chunks of the population taking responsibility for their actions,” he added on his Facebook page.
In an earlier video, he spoke about changing patterns in littering, with discarded wrappers from fast-food outlets declining during the lockdown to be replaced with an upsurge in PPE, wet wipes and fly-tipping.
Campaigners are divided in their support for national campaigns like Keep Britain Tidy (@KeepBritainTidy) and about potential solutions, with some calling for bigger fines and tougher enforcement, like John Read from Clean Up Britain (@cleanupbritain).
Others want to see registration numbers stamped on packaging issued at drive-in fast-food outlets, the introduction of deposit return schemes on bottles and cans or a return to more community service sentences involving litter-picking for those caught littering.
The Beyonder (@TheBeyonderUK) has highlighted littering and fly-tipping problems in the Chilterns, but believes the solution lies in a co-ordinated local approach that includes schools, churches, councils, landowners and other organisations.
Editor Andrew Knight said: “It’s tragic seeing local groups desperately trying not to lose heart when they see their efforts trashed day after day.
“Nature lovers shouldn’t have a feeling of dread every time they go out for a walk about what new horror they will discover. And the really good news is that the number of people who genuinely care about this is growing.
“The trouble is that once you see litter, it’s very hard for some of us to ignore – and of course it can totally ruin your day if you see a favourite beauty spot trashed by picnickers or fly-tippers.”
But he added that although the extent of the problem could often appear soul-destroying, campaigners, litter-pickers and nature lovers needed to keep helping each other to stay upbeat.
“The problem can seem overwhelming at times and in some cases there are big problems with enforcement, but there are signs of hope too, ” he said. “If Afroz Shah can achieve what he has in India, we can turn the tide here.
“At the moment the scale of the problem in the UK is incredibly depressing, but at least it is still hitting the headlines in the national papers and on TV. That shows people really do still care: the vast majority find such selfish disregard for the environment deeply upsetting.
“Some people have learned nothing from lockdown and are still oblivious to the impact of their actions, whether that’s flinging a plastic bottle out of their car window, leaving all their rubbish on a beach or dumping an old fridge at the side of the road.
“But there are millions of people working hard to protect our countryside and we really have to stop trashing our planet before it’s too late.”
He pointed to the national initiative launched by Clean Up Britain in it’s Don’t Trash Our Future campaign, praised the fly-tipping enforcement team at Buckinghamshire Council (@BucksFlyTipping) and urged schools and church groups to do more to get young people interested in the natural world.
“Part of the problem is that some young people simply don’t relate to the natural world at all,” he said. “There are some incredible young ambassadors out there helping to spread the word – for example @naturalistdara, @HollyWildChild, @BellaLack and @MyaBambrick1, not to mention @GretaThunberg – but for a lot of young people in our cities, the countryside is an alien world you just drive through to get somewhere.
“Lessons learned in school can last a lifetime, and faith groups are strong communities which can help spread the message too.
“We need young people to be getting out there and enjoying the countryside, and telling their parents it’s not acceptable to drop litter – that would be a massive step in the right direction.”
Farmers and landowners were often on the front line as victims of rural crime, he said.
“It’s hardly surprising that farmers are suspicious of strangers around their property with the upsurge there’s been in rural crime,” he said.
Recent articles in the farming press (@NFUtweets, @FarmersGuardian, @FarmersWeekly) say the cost of rural crime in the UK has reached an eight-year high with organised gangs targeting tractors, quad bikes and livestock.
“If it’s not fly-tipping or trespassing, it’s dogs attacking livestock, poaching, hare coursing or crop damage,” he said.
“But ramblers, cyclists, horse riders and dog walkers can all do their bit to keep their eyes open and help protect remote rural properties. They are often the eyes and ears on the ground who might spot something suspicious.”
SELFISH litterbugs should face the prospect of £1,000 fines, say campaigners.
With tourists trashing beaches and beauty spots around the country in the wake of the lockdown easing, InYourArea and Clean Up Britain joined forces to launch a nationwide anti-littering campaign called Don’t Trash Our Future.
Spearheaded by a number of famous faces including JLS singer JB Gill, the campaign encourages people to organise local clean-ups, push for higher fines and put pressure on councils to enforce penalties.
The campaign calls for volunteers to organise neighbourhood clean-ups in August and September tackling “grot spots” from parks and beaches to scrubland or messy roadsides.
Supporters are also being asked to sign a petiton calling for the maximum fixed penalty fine for dropping litter in the UK to be raised to £1,000.
Councils are called on to play their part too. Research by Clean Up Britain found the vast majority of local authorities in the UK were not using their enforcement powers enough – with 72% of councils in England and Wales either not enforcing the law at all, or not enforcing it effectively.
Those questioned said littering had got worse since lockdown began to ease and made them miserable, angry, sad or depressed. And the vast majority (97%) thought councils should enforce the law properly.
Don’t Trash Our Future has been backed by a number of high-profile names including JLS singer-turned-farmer JB Gill, a passionate advocate for farming and the environment who has made numerous appearances on Springwatch and Countryfile.
He said: “It’s great to see that people recognise that litter is a public health concern and a major problem.”
The campaign has also received the backing of broadcaster and animal rights campaigner Clare Balding and her partner Alice Arnold, along with TV presenter Gabby Logan and her husband, former Scottish international rugby star Kenny.
Journalist and television presenter Jeremy Paxman is Clean Up Britain’s patron. He said: “It depresses people because mucky surroundings make them feel worthless. It’s expensive – councils across the UK spend over a billion pounds a year trying to clean it up.”
LITTER-PICKERS across the Chilterns have been rallying local communities to help clean up local neighbourhoods this month.
Within minutes of the launch last week of The Beyonder’s “ripple effect” campaign, local groups had been in touch about their activities.
In Chalfont St Peter, Jodie Burridge organised a clean-up day in the village, with another planned for October 5.
In Wycombe Marsh, Jean Peasley was in touch about the Wycombe Marsh Environment Group, which organises a monthly litter pick around the area (below), as well as gardening and planting on small uncared-for patches of land.
In Beaconsfield, the Considerate Beaconsfield group organised a litter pick in August and have another planned for the New Year, while Wooburn Green residents also have a litter-pick planned for September.
Nationally, dozens of such like-minded groups have been keeping in touch via the UK Litterpicking Groups page on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 members.
There are also dozens of similar local initiatives, including the two-minute beach clean movement, the zero plastic lobby and national climate change protests.
The Beyonder’s “ripple effect” campaign was designed to unite the hundreds of like-minded local organisations already doing their bit to keep their neighbourhood clean and spread the word about what more can be done locally to tackle the problem.
The campaign coincided with another international call from action from the Pope on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.
Pope Francis has made many calls for environmental protection and has clashed over climate change with sceptical world leaders such as US President Donald Trump, who has taken the United States out of the Paris accord.
At a local level, his call may resonate with church communities across the Chilterns, many of whom can also organise small-scale local events from litter-picking to education in schools.
This week sees hard-hitting TV anti-litter advocate Jeremy Paxman addressing a two-day conference in Birmingham attended by thousands of recycling and waste business and local authority professionals.
Paxman is patron of the Clean Up Britain campaign, a national campaign specialising in changing anti-social environmental behaviour like littering and fly-tipping, and will be delivering a keynote speech on what he sees as the “national embarassment” of how filthy and run-down Britain looks.
He will tell his audience: “There’s only one sustainable solution, and that’s changing the behaviour of people who do litter. Government-supported initiatives have failed – we need a new joined-up, courageous and innovative approach to win the War on Waste.”
Another national campaigner has also called more a more proactive approach. On Twitter, Quentin Brodie Cooper of Zilch UK has spent the past five years building up a network of more than 12,000 followers working together to eliminate littering.
But he expressed disappointment that the Beyonder campaign focused “entirely on picking up litter rather than trying to do more to prevent it”.
His website lists a number of actions which he believes can make a positive and incremental contribution to the war against littering, including encouraging people to act as human camera-traps in car parks and other places where they can witness and report littering from vehicles.
But Beyonder editor Andrew Knight responded: “We do welcome all contributions to the debate and actively work to promote the work of those campaigners who are co-ordinating the fight.
“But we believe that communities working together can make a real difference in changing attitudes towards this problem. It’s not always safe for members of the public to confront litterers or try to prevent anti-social behaviour themselves, for example.
“However working together communities can help spread the word that littering is unacceptable, and Jeremy Paxman is right about the scale of the problem nationwide.
“It’s not just picking up a few bits of litter that makes the difference, but about thousands of local people spreading the word about how much they genuinely care about the local environment and about leading by example.
“Every week on the UK Litterpicking Groups web pages there are heartwarming stories of small triumphs that show many people do care and want to do their bit to help.”
Locally the National Trust rangers’ team based at Cliveden are still looking for more local litterpickers to help keep paths and car parks clean across 843 acres of land at Maidenhead and Cookham commons.
THE Kent businessman who invented a pioneering new app to tackle the country’s litter crisis admits it’s been a long, uphill struggle to get people to take his idea seriously.
Launched in a blaze of publicity back in 2015, the idea was a simple one, as Danny Lucas explains: “I decided to tackle the UK litter crisis in a way that had never been done before.
“As a child of the 70s I remembered public information films at school and Keep Britain Tidy logos on every crisp packet and sweet wrapper.
“Whilst that worked back then, it was clear that it had no effect today and I knew a new approach was needed.”
His solution was a simple, free app for smartphone users that allows individuals to tip off their local council with information about litter, dog fouling and fly-tipping. It was accompanied by a two-minute animated education film that could be shown to the kids at school assembly.
By August 2016 Danny was picking up an environmental champions award from the Mayor of Tonbridge in recognition of the contribution LitterGram had had on improving conditions in the borough.
But although he tries to remain positive, two years on he is the first to admit that the scheme hasn’t grown the way he had hoped when he first wrote about the idea of making “hating litter cool” and getting all of the UK’s 433 local councils involved.
“Councils are just not interested,” he says. “Behind closed doors they see us as a pain in the arse.”
Having invested £300,000 of his own money in the project, it’s clear that the lukewarm response has been the source of considerable anger and frustration. As the boss of a multi-million pound business in the construction industry, employing hundreds of staff, this is a man who’s clearly accustomed to getting things done.
The company he owns is the same family-run business he joined as a teenager of 15, and for most of his life he has lived in Kent– the so-called ‘Garden of England’.
“I am proud to be British however when I look around Britain I can’t see what’s great about it any more. Littering has increased by 500% since the 1960s and 48% of the population admit to dropping litter.
“We now spend £1bn per year tackling the problem which clearly does nothing as we are now officially the third most littered nation globally behind countries in the developing world.”
“This is a shocking statistic and purely down to a lack of education and awareness. This has in turn created a culture and attitude across the UK of not caring and has affected the very authorities whose duty it is to maintain standards and set examples. Effectively they now broadcast a message that says “we don’t care” and this fuels the problem.”
Danny was disappointed to find that relatively few head teachers were keen to take up the baton, some insisting that it was parents’ job to teach children about such matters.
Coupled with poor enforcement in many areas of the country, the apathy means that many people become “litter blind”, he believes – because the country is being so trashed and neglected that this is becoming the norm.
Not all council clear-up teams are as efficient as they could be, he believes. That is another waste of money and a cause for complacency, particularly if councils really don’t want to be told about the scale of the problem.
“Councils have to set standards but no one really cares,” he says. “I saw it as a great way to get the kids on board and I thought councils would embrace it.”
The LitterGram Live message of “Snap It. Share It. Sort It” was envisaged as a dynamic and fast-changing service which would include details of the most littered brands, the most active users and the most responsive councils, with enthusiastic litter spotters able to keep up with latest developments on Twitter @LitterGram.
But it hasn’t quite gone according to plan – even though there are dozens of litter-picking groups up and down the country doing their bit to help, and millions of nature and animal lovers doing their bit to highlight the scale of the crisis.
There’s been plenty of publicity in the press and on TV and radio, but that has not translated into LitterGram becoming the “fifth emergency service” as Danny might have wished.
Perhaps even more radical solutions are needed? “Take it off the councils. You could halve the costs and keep Britain spotless,” says Danny. And he’s not exactly joking. But nor is he despondent that the battle has been lost.
“I get phoned up all the time about it, so we are obviously getting the attention of a lot of people,” he says. “One way or another we will get there. The problem is now an epidemic that has a grip on the nation like cancer. If nothing is done, the problem will worsen and our children and their children will be swimming in filth.”
It’s an apocalyptic warning, but even a cursory glance along the average English roadside is enough to demonstrate that this is not empty rhetoric. The problem is there for all to see – and while LitterGram may not have become the quick-fix solution Danny Lucas might have wished for, you get the impression this is one campaigner who isn’t giving up the fight just yet.
The Beyonder meets waste enforcement officer David Rounding on Buckinghamshire’s front line in the war against illegal dumping
DIRTY WORK: David Rounding investigates a fly-tipping incident at Burnham
AN IDYLLIC single-track lane in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside sounds like an unlikely place for a crime scene.
But it’s surprising what goes on in our leafy rural backroads – and for David Rounding there’s sadly nothing out of the ordinary about the location of today’s investigation.
Responding to a tip-off from a concerned local, we’re standing in a small layby on a backroad near Burnham studying a pile of debris dumped at the side of the road.
It’s pretty standard household stuff – a sofa, bed, rug and other assorted bits and pieces. Infuriatingly, it’s less than half a mile from a household recycling centre where the items could have been unloaded legally for nothing.
Instead, they’ve been dumped here – spoiling the sylvan setting and posing a headache for South Bucks District Council, who will now have to clear up the mess. But David’s on the lookout for clues – and is not disheartened.
The waste enforcement officer is part of a small team employed by Buckinghamshire County Council – and he has quite a few weapons in his armoury that can help him solve this latest unpleasant ‘whodunnit’.
FRONT LINE TROOPS: waste enforcement officer David Rounding
“When I started out it was really, really hard to prosecute,” he recalls. But times have changed – and for the past 15 years Buckinghamshire has led the way in the war on illegal waste dumping.
When David took up his job here in 2003, dumping was at a record high and rising, with more than 4,000 incidents a year across the county. By 2013 that had been reduced to under 1,500, partly as a result of an upsurge in prosecutions resulting in substantial fines, compensation payments and even jail.
Sadly fly-tipping is on the rise again – back up to more than 3,000 cases a year locally and costing taxpayers across England more than £57m.
Like other shire counties around London, Buckinghamshire is seen as an easy target because of good transport likes and easy access via the M40 and M25 to deserted country lanes like this one – the sort of idyllic country setting seen in so many episodes of the Midsomer Murders TV series.
From selfish householders leaving mattresses or fridges and rogue traders unloading tyres and plasterboard to criminal gangs dumping waste on an industrial scale, an increasing number of fly-tippers are littering fields, woods, roads and verges with unsightly piles of rubbish like this one.
For nature lovers and local residents taking a ramble or walking their dog, this sort of eyesore raises strong emotions. More than 11,000 fly-tipping cases – six a day on average – have blighted the local countryside in the last five years, costing tax-payers £500,000 a year in clear-up costs.
But it’s not all bad news, and as David Rounding launches his latest investigation, there’s a definite spring in his step.
After starting his career in Halifax he was working for the Environment Agency in 2003 when the various councils in Buckinghamshire first got together to combat the fly-tipping menace.
They realised that proper enforcement of the law was an invaluable deterrent and in the 15 years since the county council and four district councils launched their anti-fly-tipping campaign – ‘Illegal Dumping Costs’ – David and his fellow investigators have successfully prosecuted more than 600 fly-tippers.
As with most crime, a handful of individuals can cause a disproportionate amount of damage to the environment – and in serious cases prosecution can result in imprisonment, as well as hefty fines and compensation awards.
Don’t be fooled by the remote locations, either – in recent years hidden cameras have increasingly helped the team catch the criminals in the act.
REPEAT OFFENDER: John Keenan dumped waste across Buckinghamshire
Like Letchworth builder John Keenan, 33, who was convicted in 2017 after CCTV twice caught him dumping waste from his tipper truck in local villages. Four other incidents of fly-tipping in rural Buckinghamshire and west Hertfordshire were traced back to him and work done by his company in and around London.
Keenan pleaded guilty to two counts of fly-tipping and four charges of failing in duty of care regarding waste he had produced. He was sentenced to 16 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs totalling more than £4,700.
The cameras are a welcome boost for the enforcement team, who have seen detection rates improve. “We are becoming better and better at convicting people. If the evidence is there, we will get them to court,” says David. “Since 2010 we have been averaging more than one conviction a week, and they each pay around £1,500 in fines and costs.”
Signs at dumping hotspots advertise the surveillance cameras but a succession of fly-tippers still get caught out. But CCTV accounts for only 40 per cent of the team’s convictions. Eye-witnesses account for another 20 per cent of convictions, with sharp-eyed members of the public equally keen to help catch the criminals spoiling their environment.
There aren’t many things which ruffle David’s composure, but he does get a little irritated by some of the myths which surround fly-tipping – like the claim that fines don’t get paid and costs aren’t recouped.
Last year alone, the team achieved 72 convictions and court-awarded costs of more than £75,000 towards the councils’ clean-up and legal costs, he points out.
“If you look at the evidence the fines and compensation costs do get paid,” he insists – and on top of that there’s the estimated £3m savings made over the past decade because of not having to clear dumped waste and send it to landfill.
Armed with the sort of evidence his team can gather, the net cost of a prosecution may be only around £300. But while nearly two thirds (62%) of fly-tipping convictions are for the act of dumping, the people who produced the waste can be prosecuted too for failing their duty of care if they do not ensure their rubbish is being disposed of legally.
David believes this is something many people may not realise, which could lead to someone unwittingly facing a heavy fine and a criminal conviction after paying someone else to get rid of their unwanted household items.
And he warns that cash payments to strangers are a recipe for disaster. It’s a trend that has been fuelled in the past couple of years by so-called “Facebook fly tippers” offering cheap waste collection services.
The waste detectives have become experts at finding clues to identify the source of dumped rubbish. And although David recalls late-night raids and dawn swoops with police when known dumpers have been caught red-handed, it is the sifting of rubbish for clues which he excels at and which brings 40 per cent of convictions.
SMALL PRINT: David’s team are expert at sifting through rubbish for clues
The enforcement team works closely with Thames Valley Police, which can make it easier to trace a vehicle’s movements when a crime has been committed – and there’s close co-operation in more serious cases involving crooked commercial operators and even organised gangs.
Other crimes can also result in waste being dumped in rural areas, from professional shoplifters disposing of incriminating evidence to drugs stashes and paraphernalia from cannabis farms.
Another worry is an upsurge in more serious waste dumping by organised criminal gangs, and David’s next call is to visit a council site in High Wycombe where lorryloads of waste were dumped – the latest in a series of such incidents across Buckinghamshire in recent months.
Such large-scale, serious or organised dumping is investigated and potentially prosecuted by the Environment Agency, but their resources are hard-pressed and such crimes are on the increase, so David is only too keen to provide any practical help he can.
Clamping down on the criminals is also good for legitimate waste carriers, he points out, who potentially lose millions in business. But although the short-term profits may be tempting for lazy criminals, David is keen to make sure the prosecutions count.
One man was fined more than £1,000 for adding to rubbish which had already been dumped at the roadside by someone else. In January a Slough man was fined £2,200 for dumping 19 sacks of rubbish in Fulmer, and last month a Calvert Green man was fined £2,000 for dumping boxes near Aylesbury.
There have been a number of other successful prosecutions, as David has highlighted on his Twitter account.
“They might think the money makes it worth the risk but they can serve up to five years in prison, and we have jailed a few,” he points out.
To report a fly-tipping incident to David and his colleagues, visit the county council’s web page or the Fix My Street website.
KEEPING IT CLEAN: volunteers hit the streets in Hereford [PICTURE: Andrew Wood]
COMMUNITY websites CAN make a real difference when it comes to getting local people to change their littering habits, it seems.
It’s almost a year since Emma Jones and Andrew Wood set up their online community in Hereford dedicated to clearing up local areas, following a community litter pick the friends took part in last Easter organised by Keep Britain Tidy.
That initiative tied in with a local Herefordshire Council campaign called Stop the Drop launched in January 2016 – and a year on, the community clean-up website now boasts more than 1400 members and has its own website too.
“There’s a new national feeling that we have become recycling conscious and getting people to join was relatively easy,” says Andrew, who used local buying and selling websites to put out an appeal for volunteers to get involved.
The council stepped in with litter pickers, high-visibility vests and rubbish bags. From the start, the aim was to encourage individuals to clean up local streets around their homes on a very small scale – and that seems to be having an impact, he believes.
“You need enforcement officers to be fining people to change habits,” he said. “But it has been working very, very well.” Sponsorship from local companies has helped to make the group self-sufficient and the group liaises with those companies on the ground too.
“We will work with Asda to do the area surrounding the car park, for example,” he says. “And we will name and shame too. Companies don’t like the bad publicity if they are not clearing up their own property.”
As well as retrieving supermarket trolleys from the river and notifying the council of fly-tipping incidents, the group has launched a new project to tidy up the flower beds at the main station.
It has also forged links with other groups performing similar roles around the country – from Michelle Medler and her team in Kidderminsterto the Dorset Devils in Bournemouth.
The group has increasingly developed into a social group too, as well as entering a float in the Hereford River Carnival, sprucing up the town for Hereford in Bloom and prompting a major county council campaign against dog fouling.
“We are making a difference,” insists Andrew. “It takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight. But things are changing for the better.”
SUPERMARKET SWEEP: salvaging trolleys from the river
GOING GREEN: vegetables without plastic wrapping [PICTURE: Scott Warman, Unsplash]
IT WAS a health scare that started Kathryn Kellogg first thinking about what she was putting in and on her body.
“I had never considered it before; I just assumed everything I was consuming was safe,” she says. “There’s very little regulation and testing for the products we buy. Cleaning companies don’t even have to release the ingredients they use.”
After starting to cook from scratch and starting to make her own cleaning and beauty products, the aspiring actress moved to California as was shocked to see all the litter and plastic in the ocean.
“I knew I had to do something; so, I decided to be the change I wanted to see. I stopped buying plastic and wanted to create a sustainable life. It felt like a really natural progression,” she recalls.
Living in the Bay area and spending her free time hiking and cooking, she worked a 9-5 job and is one of a number of young millennial women responsible for promoting a zero-waste lifestyle revolution that has taken off in a big way.
Kathryn’s blog, Going Zero Waste, was launched in March 2015 and by the time she was profiled in The Guardian a year later, was attracting 10,000 page views a month and had 800 subscribers.
The focus of her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts is all about homemade products and simple shopping tips that can help avoid unnecessary waste. The goal is to ensure her trash for the past year – anything that hasn’t been composted or recycled – fits in an 8oz jar.
She’s not alone – over in Chicago, Celia Ristow of Litterlessespouses a similar zero waste vibe.
And it’s got to make sense. One of the best things about her blog is her desire to make things accessible and attainable: so that for anyone starting out on the zero waste journey or just wanting to be a little more eco-friendly, her first suggestion is always the ‘Big Four’ simple, easy swaps popularised by Plastic Free July, an initiative which originated in Western Australia but which now involves participants around the world.
Kathryn advises that these four items – plastic bags, straws, single use water bottles and takeaway coffee cups – are easy to avoid and make-up a huge portion of waste in landfills and the ocean.
It’s a great starting point for reducing litter at the point of consumption – and just one of a series of straightforward tips on Kathryn’s website.
LESS IS BEST: steering clear of plastic [PICTURE: Heder Neves, Unsplash]
In fact, this is just one of more than 300 blog posts full of zero waste tips. For anyone starting out on the journey, Kathryn’s Beginners’ Guide is as good a place as anywhere to start.
THE BEYONDER is holding a ‘litter audit’ across South Bucks to help assess the best way of planning a clean-up campaign in the area.
Editor Andrew Knight has written to local parish and district councils asking for information about the scale of the litter and fly-tipping problem and for information about how current resources are organised.
The initial area covered stretches from Marlow to Denham, Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Peter and Chalfont St Giles. It includes the whole of South Bucks District, along with parts of Chiltern and Wycombe district council areas.
Mr Knight said: “It’s a beautiful part of the Chilterns which includes three country parks but there are some through roads which are badly affected by littering and some tiny back routes which suffer from occasional fly-tipping.”
The issue has been getting increasing national exposure, most recently on this year’s BBC Springwatch series, when Michaela Strachan spoke to a number of groups in Bristol about their efforts to combat plastic pollution.
COTTON BUD CRACKDOWN: Michaela Strachan meets Natalie Fee in Bristol
Meanwhile Michelle Medler in Kidderminster recruited hundreds of helpers from youngsters to pensioners to join her Facebook group litter pick-up squad.
CLEANING UP: Michelle Medler and fellow volunteers in Kidderminster
Now, to work out the scale of the problem in the Chilterns and the best way of tackling it, The Beyonder has contacted a score of parish councis asking what they are doing to cope with litter and fly-tipping, what problems they are encountering and how much it all costs.
Approaches will also be made to the three district councils in South Buckinghamshire, which are responsible for waste collection, and the county council, which looks after the highways and deals with fly-tipping complaints and waste disposal.
The survey follows consultation with campaign group Clean Up Britain, which recently launched a pioneering year-long anti-litter project in Leamington Spa, and Peter Silverman, whose Clean Highwayswebsite has long campaigned for the Highways Agency to do more to tackle litter on local motorways and motorway slip roads.
Mr Knight said: “Although our circulation area stretches over quite a large area it made sense for us to start off by assessing things on our doorstep, where we can see the scale of the problem for ourselves.”
The online magazine hopes to speak to countryside rangers, ramblers and dog walkers as well as campaigners and the relevant councils, with the aim of drawing up detailed plans for the best way of volunteers being able to play a part in tackling the problem.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or via the Facebook group, The Beyonder.
The idea stemmed from local teacher Michelle Medler’s new year resolution to pick up a bag of litter a day while walking her dogs – and mushroomed into a community supported by hundreds of volunteers.
Michelle said: “I’m amazed at how many people care and want to make a difference, which is great to know, and the positive comments from the public make it all worthwhile.”
After launching the group in January, she was surprised to see it grow into a 400-strong group after she initiated a number of communal litter picks in different parts of the town. Membership has since doubled to more than 800.
She soon won plaudits from councillors and council officers too. Youngsters and retired pensioners have been among the groups taking part – and Wyre Forest District Council, which has street cleaning reponsibilities in the area, praised Michelle and supplied volunteers with litter pickers, high visibility jackets and gloves, as well as advice about safely disposing of any dangerous items they came across.
Cabinet member for operational services Councillor Rebecca Vale said: “It is truly remarkable to hear about the positive impact these volunteers have had and I’d like to thank every one of them. We spend a lot of time, effort and money cleaning our streets – this just goes to show what a huge difference we can make to the look and feel of the district by working together.”
The Kidderminster model is one The Beyonder is keen to explore further. Beyonder editor Andrew Knight said: “The Kidderminster group are doing an amazing job and seem to have a real community spirit. They can also see the impact they are having on making the town cleaner – and it’s great that the district council has been so supportive.”
The Beyonder is carrying out a local audit before deciding how to pursue its anti-litter campaign in the Chilterns. It is in the process of contacting local parish, district and county councils to find out more about existing waste collection activities across south Buckinghamshire from Marlow to Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Giles, Chalfont St Peter and Denham.
ANTI-LITTER campaigners Clean Up Britain have published a hard-hitting second video in their drive to spell out the danger posed to animals by discarded plastics, cans, cigarette butts and chewing gum.
Launched as part of Now or Never, a ground-breaking year-long behavioural change project in Leamington Spa, the four-minute Litter Kills video graphically spells out the impact of discarded litter on wildlife and pets.
Clean Up Britain founder John Read said: “We understand the images are upsetting – that’s the point. We need to give people a reason to react strongly to seeing others litter and make those who do think twice. We have to shift attitudes and behaviour.”
The video provides more detail about the type of problems encountered by the RSPCA, which receives 5,000 calls a year about animals injured by litter. It explains how bones from discarded takeaways can kill – and how chemicals in chewing gum and cigarette ends can be poisonous for animals.
Even onions can be toxic to cats and dogs, which can also be made ill by mouldy food or choke on balloons released to mark a celebration. Likewise, wild birds can be killed or injured by plastic rings and the sharp edges of discarded cans.
The video is part of a year-long campaign in the Warwickshire town designed to change people’s attitudes towards litter.
The campaign includes an educational pack for schools designed for 8- to 11-year-olds designed to teach them why dropping litter is bad for the environment, wildlife and communities.
It comes on a day when the UN revealed 50 nations are now taking action to reduce plastic pollution.
The UN report reveals that the Galapagos will ban single-use plastics, Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam and China is insisting on biodegradable bags.
But the authors warn that far more needs to be done to reduce the vast flow of plastic into rivers and oceans.
ROADSIDE LITTER: Peter Silverman surveys the problem at Beaconsfield
PETER Silverman is a man on a mission.
It wasn’t always like this. But what began as an observation about the apparently worsening tide of litter on roadside verges around his home has turned into something of a crusade.
It was back in 2010 that the retired financial adviser became aware of specific problem areas that seemed to be being ignored by the relevant authorities.
“The amount of stuff on the verges was monumentally worse than it is now,” he recalls. But part of the problem then, as now, was working out which authority was actually responsible.
Highways England and its contractors are responsible for keeping motorways and trunk roads clean, but in counties like Buckinghamshire, although the county council is responsible for highways, litter-picking is a district council function.
It soon became clear to Peter, now 75, that some spots – like slip roads around the Denham roundabout where the A40 meets the M40 – appeared to be slipping through the net and had been totally neglected.
Part of his frustration was that the authorities appeared to be failing to fulfil their duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 S89(1) to “ensure that the land under their control is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse”.
Not a motorist to be trifled with, Peter duly issued a Section 91 warning notice under the ‘EPA’ legislation to the transport secretary, prompting a sixfold increase in cleaning activity by the Highways Agency’s contractor, bringing the southern end of the M40 up to an acceptable standard by June of that year.
But of course the problem didn’t stop there. Eight years on, and Peter’s website pays testimony to his ongoing battle with the authorities – a fight which has been picked up by like-minded motorists around the country.
The problem hasn’t gone away, of course. Only this year another litter abatement order was required before Highways England fulfilled its legal responsibilities to clean up slip roads around the Denham roundabout.
Peter’s frustration lies not only with the agencies involved but with the lack of concerted and effective action from central government – exacerbated by funding cutbacks.
To make matters worse, responsibility for litter is “passed around like a hot potato” by government ministers, he maintains. Whereas an ‘important’ job like health secretary has been held by Jeremy Hunt since 2012, litter has not been prioritised in the same way.
“Jeremy Hunt has been in charge of the NHS for years and every year you get more expert,” says Peter. “With litter, the people do it for a year and move on. It’s the same with the people in charge of the Highways Agency.”
Undeterred, Peter’s website has continued to chronicle his mission to get the authorities to fulfil their duty to keep their land clear of litter – and to do far more to deter those who create it in the first place.
“For decades central government has failed to provide the leadership, funding and resolution needed to get to grips with the problem,” he maintains.
No organisation was charged with the task of policing compliance with EPA duties and he fears that the issue is far from being a top government priority, despite the publication of a “litter strategy for England” updated last July.
“In 2015 a Commons select committee concluded that England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan,” says Peter. “Our main roads and motorways are in the worst state of all. Local authorities pay less heed to through roads where there are usually no residents to complain about their condition.”
But the national litter strategy promises no additional funding for litter collection and fails to adequately tackle any of the key issues, he believes.
“The litter strategy is a total and utter joke,” he says. There are similarly harsh words for Keep Britain Tidy and many of those working for key government agencies, including ministers and civil servants: “We may not have the kind of widespread corruption you see in some countries but we have our own kind of corruption in the form of making life easy for civil servants, for not having the courage to actually deal with problems.”
There has been much talk about forcing councils to remove roadside litter and prosecute offenders, but he believes many council schemes where specialist contractors can issue on-the-spot fines for littering are only ‘token operations’ to show a council is doing something, with most officers instructed not to issue juveniles with such fines because of magistrates’ “reluctance to give a 15-year-old a criminal record for dropping a packet of crisps”.
It’s not just the roadside litter that’s a problem either, he points out, but spillages from skip lorries and bulk waste transporters. Despite evidence that this occurs on a regular basis, the Environment Agency has only prosecuted one such offending company since 2000, he claims – and that was at his instigation.
“Highways England obstinately refuse to accept that they can and should prosecute these offences,” he maintains.
And apart from our filthy motorways, there’s another major problem when it comes to clamping down on fly-tipping: that despite this being a criminal offence punishable by unlimited fines and a five-year jail sentence if convicted in a crown court, the Environment Agency appears to have prosecuted only ONE case involving large-scale fly-tipping in 2017.
The agency is responsible for investigating larger scale fly-tipping, hazardous waste and fly-tipping by organised gangs. But while Defra minister Therese Coffey referred to more than 200 incidents of large-scale fly–tipping being ‘dealt with’ by the agency in 2017, Peter’s Freedom of Information request asking about the number of prosecutions brought by the EA between 2006 and 2015 showed the number had declined from 96 in 2006 to 26 in 2015.
There’s plenty of tough talking from the EA, which says: “Our specialist crime unit uses intelligence to track and prosecute organised crime gangs involved in illegal waste activity. We are determined to make life hard for criminals.”
But Peter’s research revealed many of the recorded prosecutions were for the mis-management of waste transfer, treatment and storage sites rather than fly-tipping.
EYESORE: large-scale fly-tipping in Enfield in March 2018 [PICTURE: Peter Silverman]
He explains: “In fact only three of the 30 cases in 2017 were definitely for fly-tipping. Two of these were in effect the same case as two members of the same family were prosecuted for the same incident. Their combined fines were £75,000. In the other case the fine was only £900.
If such statistics sound depressing, the good news is that it means Peter isn’t quite ready yet to stop being a thorn in the side of the authorities – whether that means government ministers and departments, local councils or the Highways Agency.
Sadly, the campaign still has to reach a wider national audience. Despite occasional outings on national TV (he was a guest on BBC Breakfast in April this year), his Youtube broadcast clips (as when he featured on BBC’s Don’t Mess With Me documentary series about littering back in 2014) are still seen by hundreds rather than thousands of viewers.
But there’s clearly huge support for his work nonetheless. The ‘Have Your Say’ section of his website contains hundreds of comments from drivers who share his anger and frustration at the roadside litter scandal – and who realise the battle is one worth fighting.
As contributor John Lindsay wrote in April: “Peter is doing a fantastic job to bring more attention to the litter disease that engulfs our country.
“We all have a choice to either do something about our littered nation or not. We must spread the word to educate our own families, neighbours and friends. By acting together we will leave a better legacy.”
It’s an important message. Peter’s website may testify to the fact that this is so evidently a one-man campaign – but it also reveals that it’s not one he has to fight entirely on his own.
IT’s exciting to see a dynamic new nationwide campaign being launched by a small group of professionals united by a shared passion for looking after our environment – and growing concerns about litter.
Clean Up Britain (CLUB) has been lobbying hard for a national litter campaign as well as inspiring and enabling communities and businesses to tackle a range of recycling and environmental issues, from reducing single-use plastics to clamping down on fly-tipping and roadside litter.
Founded by John Read, who has extensive experience in campaigning, corporate communications and public affairs, CLUB launched its Litter Kills initiative last month with the following message:
The UK has a serious litter problem. Take a look around you – every village, town, city, beach and roadside is blighted with the lazy leftovers of our daily lives.
We’ve been wrestling hard with how to properly ignite the conversation about litter and the damage it does.
In particular, we need to get to young women and men, age 16-30, who don’t even think about litter. This age group, while outwardly professing a love of the planet, recycling and other green issues, over-indexes on littering compared to other age groups.
It’s been ages since a national anti-litter campaign ran which changed littering behaviours, the topic of littering gets no airtime with this audience, and any wider efforts to prompt thinking and behaviour change has been largely ineffective.
Litter doesn’t really figure on their radar. Yet.
We had seen the RSPCA stats – they get 5,000 calls a year about animals injured by litter. Instinctively, we knew that this must be the tip of the iceberg.
We also knew, from previous research, that talking about hurt and dead animals was one of the only ways to ignite the conversation about litter with our target audience.
And so we began looking hard at the impacts of litter on animals, and with help of the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and the pet charity Blue Cross, we built the bigger, shocking picture. Our campaign ‘Litter Kills’ was born.
CLUB recognises the images are shocking, but believes that’s necessary:
We need to give people a reason to react strongly to seeing others litter, and make those who do think twice. We have to shift attitudes and behaviour.
We’re supposedly a nation of pet and animal lovers. British households in total host 8.5m dogs and 8m cats. Millions of us care about wildlife and enjoy seeing wild animals where we live, work and play.
Yet our littering habit affects thousands and thousands of animals in a very bad, sometimes fatal, way.
Tragically, the images selected for the campaign are all real, selected from countless case studies of animals injured or poisoned by discarded takeaways, mouldy food or broken glass.
The “litter kills – it’s time to act” message is part of CLUB’s Now or Never campaign which kicked off in Leamington Spa and received widespread local and national media coverage.
And earlier news releases have focused on issues like fly-tipping, another issue close to our hearts at The Beyonder.
Back in March last year, CLUB warned busy residents not to unwittingly pay rogue traders to dispose of their waste.
The message was simple: make a quick check with the Environment Agency to see if they have a waste carrier permit, rather than risking a huge fine for having the waste disposed of illegally. Any legitimate trader should be happy to provide their name or registration number. The agency can be contacted by phone on 03708 506 506).