Local action to Stop the Drop

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From roadside rubbish to recycling innovations, Rupert Hardy takes a look at the seemingly neverending battle against litter in the UK

Litter on A31 at Winterborne Zelston
Image: Rupert Hardy

Littering in Britain is a disgrace – and worse than in most of Europe. CPRE has been active campaigners to stop it for years. In 2008, CPRE’s then-president, Bill Bryson, launched the Stop the Drop campaign against litter and fly-tipping. Around the country, 225 groups joined the campaign, picking up more than 30,000 bags of litter. The campaign was front-page news in The Times, and millions of people watched Bill Bryson’s spin-off BBC Panorama programme, Notes from a Dirty Island.
But the success was short-lived.
Dorset CPRE has been involved in litter campaigning since we started the Rural Litter Initiative in 2003 – a precursor to the current Litter Free Dorset (LFD), which does a brilliant job on a limited budget, funded by Dorset Council and Wessex Water. The campaign also supports lots of voluntary groups, focusing on changing people’s behaviour and working with businesses to reduce packaging etc. However, it is an endless battle, with litter endangering our environment, our wildlife and our economy in spite of increased environmental awareness.
But what is the solution?

Reducing roadside litter
Roadside litter not only impacts our environment but it is costly to clear up. Litter on the A1 in east Dorset is a particular eyesore between December and spring, when the verges are cleared.
Overall, litter costs UK taxpayers more than
£1 billion a year. Most people say it makes them angry and frustrated, but it can also affect mental health. Why do people just throw their rubbish out of their car window?
Understanding motivation is a key part of finding a solution, and educational campaigns can certainly help to reduce littering. The tougher fines introduced last year might help too, but enforcement has been limited. It doesn’t help that National Highways removed litter-free standards as a key performance indicator. The Clean Up Britain campaign is currently taking National Highways to court over its obligations. One recent idea has been Love Your Verge, a countywide collaboration between Dorset Council and LFD. The verges in Dorset host a wide range of wildlife and need protecting. The campaign promotes the council’s verge management, aimed at encouraging roadside biodiversity, partly by less frequent cutting and also by reducing littering. However, funds are limited in these days of financial cutbacks.
Dorset drivers can also now use dashcam footage to report to the council incidents of rubbish being thrown from cars.
A spokesman from Dorset Council said that every single report received is acted upon. All drivers around Dorset are encouraged to take action against litter thrown from vehicles by reporting incidents using the online form here.

Other litter campaigns
Single-use plastic is a big problem for the environment even before it pollutes our rivers and oceans. Chemicals derived from fossil fuel production are used to make most plastics. Last year it was finally announced that a range of polluting single-use plastics, such as cutlery, would be banned from October 2023. The ban is part of the government’s latest round of policies to cut down on plastic packaging, but it could have gone further.
This year LFD has a Bring Your Own campaign aimed at getting consumers to take their own cutlery, cups and lunch-boxes when visiting cafés and shops. It is going well so far, with 100 Dorset businesses already joining the campaign.
One nationally-popular idea has been the award-winning Refill campaign, which aims to make refilling your water bottle as easy and cheap as possible by introducing refill points on every street. Refill is asking cafés, shops and businesses to welcome anyone to refill their water bottles with good old tap water – for free! It has been rolled out successfully along the beaches of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, with the introduction of 150 refill points. Meanwhile, LFD its providing portable ashtrays made from seaweed paper in the oddly named Beach Buttholder campaign.
Following some terrible heath fires in Dorset in recent years, Litter Free Dorset is working hard to stop the sale of disposable barbecues. It has had considerable success with many major retailers, including Waitrose, permanently removing them from sale.

Deposit return scheme
For 15 years now, CPRE has been campaigning for a deposit return system (DRS), where a small deposit would be applied on any drinks container, which is then refunded when it is returned for recycling. We encouraged Damers First School in Dorchester to write to Michael Gove to back such a return system in 2018, and a group from the school had the opportunity to meet the Minister.
The launch of a plastic bottle DRS in England was finally announced by the government last year, due to start in 2025 – but it will not include glass.
That failure, which was a 2019 manifesto promise, is a major missed opportunity.

What can you do?
Gillingham Litter Pickers and Hilltop Litter Pickers (Shaftesbury) are just two of the voluntary groups that organise regular litter picking in North Dorset. Lots of villages organise annual litter picks. At Ansty, it is a great community event to pick up a lorry-load of rubbish, followed by a barbecue lunch. Do join them!
If you want to join or start a litter picking group, or borrow equipment, it is easy. LFD does a lot of work in this area, so see litterfreedorset.co.uk where you will find a range of resource material to get you started. Overall, there have been some wins – but there is still a lot of litter to pick!

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