Dyl Kurpil, Managing Director, District Enforcement explains the value of a littering heat map in creating a proactive, intelligence-driven anti-litter strategy

The latest anti-littering guidance puts the blame firmly on high street fast-food restaurants. But without any real insight into the time of day, location or specific source of litter, how can councils, enforcement services or takeaways make any real changes?

Litter is a blight on UK high streets

Successive governments have attempted to address the problem of litter blighting the UK’s high streets, motorways and rural lanes. Littering is a criminal offence, and the UK government has already bolstered local authorities’ enforcement powers by increasing the on-the-spot penalties for littering to £150 in England. Councils can also take offenders to court, which can result in a fine of up to £2,500 if convicted. However, enforcing littering is far from straightforward. As an out-of-court disposal for a criminal offence, Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) have set criteria on when their use is appropriate. For example, justice is arguably better served by requiring a juvenile to take part in a sponsored litter pick rather than imposing a financial penalty in that kind of scenario.

Nor is it easy to apply enforcement protocols to the night-time economy. While Local Authorities may want to address the problem of drunk individuals dropping bottles or fast food packaging after hours, officers are not permitted to issue an FPN to anyone lacking the capacity to understand. Not only is that a tough judgement call for enforcement officers facing a group of individuals who have had a night in the pub, no one wants to risk escalating a situation that could end in physical harm. As a result, any late-night littering is typically treated with discretion rather than issuing a fine.

New guidance blames fast food chains

The latest guidance from the government appears to lay the blame firmly on fast food restaurants. The focus is on clarifying the powers councils in England have to set stricter litter rules for new hot food takeaways when considering planning applications, including ensuring that more bins are installed to reduce rubbish in the surrounding area.

Fast food items are the fourth most common type of litter found on UK high streets

While figures show that fast food items are the fourth most common type of litter found on UK high streets, will more bins make any difference? Takeaways, by their very nature, are often not eaten on-site. People consume on their way home or to work. Roadside litter is often the result of packaging being thrown out of the car window. And while fast food companies provide an array of bins, including wide-mouth bins that can be accessed from the car while leaving a drive-through location, that is no good if the customer is ten miles down the road when the food has been consumed.

How could a littering heat map help?

None of the strategies to date have been based on an accurate understanding of the time, place and contributors to littering. Is late-night littering the biggest problem for a local authority? Are children the worst offenders when they throw their after-school snacks? The truth is that most councils have no idea. They may know that fast food outlets contribute heavily to the litter tally – but which are the worst offenders? How far away from the retailer is that litter found? What times of day are the worst littering events? Is litter coming from tourists/day trippers or are the locals primarily to blame? This is the information that councils need to inform anti-littering strategies.

Enforcement services already record information about where anti-social behaviour occurs, including littering and dog fouling. The information, including litter type, location and time of day, can be used to create a heat map of littering activity. This can highlight the times of day when littering is at its highest – allowing enforcement officers to concentrate on their activity. If children are the most significant contributors to litter, the council can embark on an education campaign and encourage schools to get involved in litter picks.

Proactive response in the form of a littering heat map

This insight can also help councils to optimise bin location and emptying patterns: if litter starts to build up when the bins are full, adding a bin collection service could rapidly reduce the problem. It can also help a council identify the full impact of takeaways on the widespread littering problem – and provide useful insight to share with the relevant food retailer.

No branded fast-food company wants its litter to be thrown out of car windows and left on the roadside – that is not a great advert for the brand. But without knowing where and when their packaging is gone, it is tough for these companies to develop their own anti-litter policies.

There are wider plans to include a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections. Adding insight into the timing and location of litter will help companies develop their own strategies to counter littering. Adding a constantly updated littering heat map will provide essential insight to support decision making, helping help councils, fast food companies and enforcement officers to respond with an intelligence-driven, targeted approach.


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