Litter is caused by recycling

Or perhaps we should make the observation that collecting rubbish less often in order to promote recycling increases littering. This is most certainly true of flytipping – the more restrictions are placed upon disposing of bulk waste the more of it gets dumped in the countryside. Incentives do, after all, matter. This holds over to more general littering as well.

The Guardian offers us a complaint about how messy the country is:

While littering of the oceans is now at the forefront of public concern, general littering of the countryside and communities is barely on the national radar. Yet the amount of “eyesore” litter, not just plastic, is increasing exponentially on roadsides, in rivers, in public spaces and in the countryside and has a hugely negative impact on people’s lives.

This thus requires a national strategy, blah, blah, blah. Yet we do get a pipsqueak of the real problem here:

Rubbish collection, or lack of it, compounds the problem. Bins for public use are relatively scarce, and litter collection is less frequent as councils simultaneously promote recycling and cut budgets. Uncollected, rubbish blows around, and once an area is strewn with litter it attracts even more. If an area is kept clean, less litter is dropped.

Yep, the councils empty the bins less often in order to promote recycling and this leads to more litter. There is one little problem here:

Ros Coward is a professor of journalism at Roehampton University

Trust someone who teaches journalism to bury the lede. But then calling Roehampton a university, a place that has professors, is rather to contribute to the litter problem, isn’t it?

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14 COMMENTS

  1. If we assume fly tipping will always happen and putting signs up, attempting to prosecute and eventually cleaning up the mess is unavoidable why not pay people to bring rubbish to tips? by weight or volume but make it pay.

    • Well, this is an argument for a “bottle bill,” a deposit at the time of purchase on all containers (not all, just those that politicians seem to see at the side of the road), refunded when the container is returned to a Recycling Center. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it creates a mountain of make-work and an intractable, permanent industry that travels to the legislature to fight repeal. A US state that enacts it will never get it to go away, just like the regional “carbon credit” racket in the Northeast.

      • I didn’t mean a deposit type scheme, what I had in mind is if you pick up someone elses crap and turned up at the tip they’d pay you for it.
        Travelers might tidy up after themselves if incentives were set right.
        scrap dealers tour estates when scrap prices are high why not clean the streets in a similar way.

      • Where do you get the free money to do it? Besides, the Mexicans already perfected the “pick up someone else’s crap” racket. See, the first night on your new job as a security guard, the store gets broken into, but you catch the burglar and lead him away in handcuffs (home, where Mom will have dinner ready for the both of you after you get off work).

        • as I said, use the money currently used to clean up fly tipping, councils have tried threatening people with little effect maybe reward is an option.

          Fly-tipping is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment if convicted in a Magistrates’ Court. The offence can attract an unlimited fine and up to 5 years imprisonment if convicted in a Crown Court.

          this doesn’t work maybe we try something else.

  2. The first step in problem solving is to define what the problem actually is. This step has not been done in the whole litter/recycling/plastics/guilt thing. In fact guilt seems to be the prime element of the problem because unwanted stuff can be burned or buried, and that solution is trivial. It is guilt that causes the more emotional of us to reject the simple solutions and to over-complicate the whole damn thing.

  3. While littering of the oceans is now at the forefront of public concern, general littering of the countryside and communities is barely on the national radar.

    As PJ O’Rourke said: everyone wants to save the world, but nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.

    Anyone I see going on about plastic in the oceans from now on I’m going to ask if they’d not be better off worshipping in church.

  4. The answer, of course, is gigantic, industrial-scale sorting facilities which anyone and everyone can bring their rubbish to, paid for from council tax. But all the money has gone on Diversity Outreach Coordinators so there’s no CAPEX to build the facility nor OPEX to run it once built, so they need to get the peasants to sort the rubbish by hand. As anyone could have predicted, a lot of people aren’t going to do so.

  5. Yep. How stupid do you have to be? I paid for skips. At eyewatering rates eventually. Came to the site on morning & there was a couple meter’s of office waste in it. So we had a bit of fun. One of the directors had his personal mail in amongst it. So a house in Barnet got 2 meters of office waste delivered to its front garden. Technically, we might of been breaking the law. Transporting commercial waste without a license. But I would have said we were returning lost property…

  6. ‘This is why she thinks the government emphasis on behaviour is ineffectual. Rubbish should be tackled at source and the real solution is a zero-waste society.’

    The people won’t do what we want. So we’ll attack their suppliers.

    ‘general littering of the countryside and communities is barely on the national radar.’

    Nor should it be. Trash handling is none of the national government’s business.

    Avoid the fascists trap, arguing about effects. The government has no authority to be involved with trash, possible effects are a distraction.

    E.g. Banning cinnamon might have a good effect; that doesn’t give the government the right to ban it. The government might issue a warning, like “Cinnamon will make all your babies be born naked.”

    Just read today that the U.S. government has now decided that coffee is bad for you . . . again. They know better than to try to ban it; that will get them banned.

    • The UK is not a federation of enumerated powers, as we are, but they too would benefit from doing trash handling at a local level. This would not just ensure better solutions in each place but prevent system-wide, feel-good goals like being a “zero-waste society,” and the resulting management-by-numbers of the human herd.

      PS – The U.S. government long ago decided that widespread gun ownership is bad for us. Extending a longstanding prohibition against the Centers for Disease Control “and Prevention” doing studies (that is, writing math-based sales pitches) was an issue in the recent Omnibus spending bill, and I don’t know how it was resolved.

    • Actually it wasn’t the US that banned coffee. It was our own little answer to Venezuela, California. Because of some trace of acrylimide in coffee, the state wants cancer warning labels on coffee.

      Viva the Bolivarian People’s Republic of California.

  7. Littering and fly tipping are entirely separate issues with different root causes.

    The upsurge in fly tipping is a direct consequence of the European Commission Landfill Waste Directive of 1999, (Council Directive 99/31/EC), under which:
    “According to the waste management hierarchy, landfilling is the least preferable option and should be limited to the necessary minimum. Where waste needs to be landfilled, it must be sent to landfills which comply with the requirements of Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste”.

    In order to ‘disincentivise’ the generation of landfill waste in the UK any business, company or sole trader that produces waste must register with the Environment Agency for a Waste Carrier, Broker or Dealer License (£159 every 3 years, thank you very much) and pay Government Landfill Tax of £86.10 per tonne plus Local Authority Charges (my local authority currently charges £205 per tonne to dispose of landfill waste, VAT and GLT inclusive). Government Landfill Tax increase annually. Naturally.

    With this massive increase in the cost of waste disposal, waste management has now become big business but with thin margins, so the incentive to drive your 5 tonne truck load of waste right past the Council run waste recycling centre and find yourself a nice quiet cul-de-sac (and thereby pocketing the £1025 which it would cost to dispose of the waste) is quite high. Also bearing in mind that waste removal has always been the preserve of the less socially engaged members of our society.

    Littering on the other hand has always been a feature of the third world, and the noticeable increase of litter in the UK in recent years is probably just an indicator of the direction of travel the country is heading in.