summer village Caroline Smith

Caroline Smith

Whether you live in a town, city or village, it’s likely that you have streets and rivers filled with litter, unless you are very fortunate. Obviously the onus is on each individual not to drop litter (and shops to not sell plastic packaging), but there are many ways that individuals, groups and councils can help to create litter-free communities. That usually starts with a mass zero-tolerance policy. By removing all existing litter (including litter that has been on the ground or in local streams for sometimes years), it creates a community placemaking pride, so it’s less likely that people will drop litter onto clean litter-free streets. Here is a simple list of things you can do, to create a litter-free community:

individual actions to create litter-free communities

  1. Never drop litter yourself! If everyone did this, then there would be no litter. Either take litter home with you or find a local litter bin.
  2. Pick up particularly dangerous forms of litter, and put them in the bin. For instance, you could pick up plastic beer can holders that harm wildlife (rip the holes before binning) or plastic straws and sharp plastic cutlery (that cause harm to marine creatures, when they fall down drains). The late Simon Cowell (the wildlife rescuer, not the music mogul) said that if we all picked up an elastic band or glass bottle each day, collectively this would mean millions of items not harming native wildlife.
  3. If you smoke, invest in a personal ashtray. This is a small device that immediately extinguishes cigarettes, so that you can keep the butts safely on your person, until you get home to bin them securely. This can also help to prevent fires (and wildfires).
  4. If you walk dogs, invest in biodegradable dog poop bags, and keep them in your pocket or rucksack, or attach to the dog lead, so you don’t forget them. Then deposit them in dog poop bins or normal bins. If you walk places where there are not dog poop bins nearby, buy a DickyBag (a portable bag that keeps dog poop bins safely inside, until you get home.

how businesses can create litter-free communities

  1. Try to avoid handing out anything that could create litter. Most single-use plastic items are now banned, but don’t ‘use them up’ by handing them out and look into biodegradable pots for food etc. There are many good inventions these days like:
  2. Rebowl & ReCup are two companies that let you buy reusable bowls and cups for takeaway food, then customers just return them when done, to get back their deposits. Also register with Refill to be a place where people can refill their reusable bottles with tap water.
  3. Let people borrow a cloth bag (or brolly) if they forget theirs. Be inspired by zero waste shops that use tare systems to let people bring their own clean bottles and jars to fill up just what they need, so they pay for goods and not packaging.

how councils can create litter-free communities

  1. Install quality litter bins everywhere, and empty them regularly. Same with recycling bins, there is no point in having them, but not emptying them regularly. Solar bins compact trash down if you can’t afford to send staff out every day to empty bins.
  2. Invest in better dog poop stations, which include free biodegradable poop bags, in case people forget. This costs less than sending out council workers to clean up poop afterwards.
  3. Serve litter abatement orders on people who won’t clean up litter. You must clean up litter on public land (no matter who dropped it). But you can serve litter abatement orders on people on private land.
  4. Don’t mow grass verges of highways until you’ve cleaned up litter, otherwise this just sends shards of glass & plastic flying everywhere. Clean up first, then mow.
  5. Reduce cigarette litter by providing proper bins (especially now that smoking indoors is banned). Ballot Bin is proven to reduce cigarette butt litter by up to 73%.No Butts offers smoking shelters that are specially designed for butts not to fly away in the wind (also for offices, these can minimise fire risks from discarded butts).
  6. The Gumdrop Bin is an ingenious invention to stop gum litter (the same company also makes a personal gum bin that once full, can be sent off using a freepost label, to get discounts on new ones). This bin takes 500 pieces of gum, and can be mounted to the wall or to posts in shopping malls, football stadiums, supermarkets, car parks or anywhere else.

how communities can create litter-free communities

  1. Send complaints of litter to Fix My Street, with photos if possible. These go direct to councils and as the complaints are made public online, they tend to get fixed pretty quickly. Councils have legal duty to clean litter on public land (no matter who dropped it) and they can serve litter abatement orders for people on private land that don’t clean it up
  2. Set up a local litter clean-up group with help from CleanupUK (which lists helpful resources on where to buy litter pick-up kits. For beach clean-ups, Surfers Against Sewage has good info including the law and how to get involved.
  3. Organise community recycling boxes with Terracycle. A few are free (sponsored by industry) but most boxes are £100 to £200, you could ask a business or council to sponsor this, or divide the cost between many people. This creates a one-off amnesty to get litter out of your town, which is then recycled into other goods. The boxes take difficult-to-recycle items, hence the cost. There are boxes for everything from mixed boxes for everything from party waste to plastic waste to cigarette waste and balloons.
  4. Don’t ever release balloons or fire lanterns, both cause immense harm to wildlife and the latter even puts lifeboat crew at risk, as coastguards often mistake them for emergency flares.
  5. Be inspired by the Devon town of Modbury, and create a plastic-bag free town. No council involvement is needed. Just get the local media involved, send everyone a free cloth bag and ask local businesses to sell items in reusable bags or compostable pots. That’s what happened in this small town, and the entire town was plastic-bag-free within a month, even the local supermarket got involved. The town also created a plastic bag amnesty, with donated bags sent off to be made into plastic garden benches.
  6. One farmer had a wonderful idea that local councils could consider: having registration numbers printed on fast food receipts. So if people drop fast food litter out of car windows, they get a fine in the post, just like with speeding.

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