I have taken many a walk in my local park, excited by the prospect of a relaxing and beauty-filled rendezvous with nature, only to be greeted by the overly familiar sight of a litter-strewn field. Bottles and wrappers would lay but feet away from bins – the extra few steps it would take to throw the rubbish away being evidently one step too far for many (with 48% of people admitting in one survey to dropping litter).
My park is sadly not alone in its mistreatment. Out of a total of 7,200 sites surveyed by ‘Keep Britain Tidy’, 14% were found to be at an unacceptable standard for litter. This number is only increasing, with a new incident of fly tipping occurring every 12 seconds.
This littering is no little matter. Beyond simply ruining my walks, it has had many grave environmental, economic and social repercussions.
In my opinion, the worst outcome is the damage done to animals. LitterGram claims that 70,000 animals are killed or injured annually by litter in the UK, whilst the RSPCA receives 14 calls a day regarding animals affected by litter. On a global scale the numbers only get worse, with it being estimated that every year over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 turtles and sea mammals die of litter related causes.
Beyond the cost to life, the financial cost is also shocking. Litter-strewn roads on average have been found to decrease the value of a property by 12%, taking vital money out of the pockets of many who cannot afford it. What’s worse, picking up litter is estimated to cost local authorities in the UK on average £1 billion at year – money that could be spent better on other needs, such as:
The economic impact of litter affects all, with rich and powerful businesses not even escaping unscathed. For example, if a company’s product is often seen on the street as litter, it is estimated that this can result in a 2% drop in the company’s turnover.
It would appear that no one is safe!
Some even attribute litter to a lack of general safety (due to crime) in a community. For example, in one survey 8 out of 10 Land Managers argued that dealing with minor crimes like litter would help to reduce larger crimes and improve public safety. Whilst this claim is untested, and the leap from littering to serious crime might involve some mental gymnastics, it does raise the important point that litter is perceived by many to make their local community unsafe.
Finally, beyond safety, litter can damage a local sense of pride and worth. For example, one UK survey found that 62% of people consider themselves to be concerned about the appearance of their area, with their community pride being tied up in the local aesthetic. At the same time, 57% consider litter to be a problem, damaging this pride.
It is with these stats in mind that we need to take action NOW! My cohort has decided to do this through our own litter pick. We believe that if we all do our bit, we can in turn hopefully reduce the environmental, economic and social impact of litter!
By Luke Evason-Browning, CW18 Trainee at Christian Aid.