New survey reveals drinks containers make up 75% of litter in UK streets

Keep Britain Tidy  A new report produced by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and commissioned by Defra, has revealed that the bulk of the litter that is being thrown onto UK streets, parks and beaches is the result of drinking on the go.

The survey, carried out at a representative sample of sites across the country in 2019, looked not only at the number of items dropped but at the volume of that litter and it revealed that almost three quarters of the litter – a massive 75% – was the result of drinks consumption.

The most littered item, by volume, was the small plastic bottle (up to 750ml) for non-alcoholic drinks, which accounted for 24.4% of the total, joined by cans, larger bottles, glass bottles, coffee cups, takeaway soft drinks cups and cartons. The resulting mountain of waste, much of which could and should be recycled is, instead, polluting the environment and costing millions of pounds to clean up.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Keep Britain Tidy Deputy CEO Richard McIlwain said:

“It’s clear that our ‘food on the go’ culture of convenience comes with real consequences, with food and drink packaging polluting our environment, which in turn costs millions to clean-up and harms native wildlife and domestic pets.

“As we consider what a post-Covid green recovery should look like, we should allow ourselves to imagine a world without litter and plastic pollution. It is clear that we urgently need new measures to tackle all types of littering but particularly to address the issue of drinks containers, which make up nearly three quarters of the volume of litter in this country.

“This is why we need a well-designed and comprehensive deposit return scheme as soon as possible, for all sizes of plastic, glass and aluminium drinks containers.

“In more than 40 countries and regions around the world, such schemes can drive up collection rates for drinks containers to over 90%, creating clean material for recycling and reducing littering.”

Defra:    ‘Yesterday (Tuesday 9 June) Defra published its Litter Composition Report which details how much and what types of litter are being dropped on our streets. Conducted by Keep Britain Tidy, a survey of over 75,000 pieces of litter revealed the types, sizes and branding of discarded items. Cigarette stubs making up two-thirds of individual items, while 75% of the total volume stemmed from drinks containers.  The Times and Daily Mail have today covered the report, with Keep Britain Tidy also putting out a press release to detail their findings.

This report will inform further policy development, particularly around extended producer responsibility, and assist with delivery of our Litter Strategy for England.

To combat litter and increase recycling rates, we have consulted on a deposit return scheme (DRS) for single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans, and disposable cups filled at the point of sale. The DRS is subject to further consultation and analysis of the costs and benefits.’

A Defra spokesperson said:

“We are committed to tackling litter and the detrimental effect it has on our communities, countryside and wildlife. This report looked at what is being littered and in what quantities, which will help us better understand what further interventions are needed to tackle this scourge.”

Click here to read the report

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