Litterbugs: how to deal with the problem of littering

Document type
Lewis, Alan; Turton, Polly; Sweetman, Thomas
Policy Exchange
Date of publication
9 March 2009
Community Development and Regeneration
Social welfare
Material type

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Since the 1960s the amount of litter dropped annually in the UK has increased by approximately 500 per cent.  This report investigates why people drop litter and looks at the best ways to change their behaviour, and also at how to improve the way litter is cleaned up.  It includes comparative case studies from the United States and Australia. The direct costs of managing litter are large: councils spend an estimated £500 million a year on cleaning. The indirect costs are also considerable: companies in heavily littered areas lose business, and such areas are linked to increasing crime rates and anti-social behaviour. In both town and country, wildlife risks ingesting litter and pollutants.  Littering is symptomatic of social and individual attitudes towards both public space and waste. The authors found that the most common reasons for littering are that an area is already littered; cleaning up is perceived to be the responsibility of someone else; there are no bins or ashtrays nearby; people have biodegradable items they want to get rid of; or when there is no incentive to dispose of litter properly. Efforts to tackle litter should target each one of these causes in turn.

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