Littering is not OK – Ask the Government to take action
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Most of us know by now the staggering amount of plastic that enters our watercourses (freshwater and oceans alike) each year, causing environmental degradation and ecological havoc.
Over 200 thousand tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK, and only a small amount of it (estimates suggest around a third) is segregated for recycling. It is also worth noting that much of our recyclable material may be sent abroad for processing, and that the transferred waste is easily lost track of.
The quantity of single-use material that is deliberately or recklessly dispersed each day is staggering, ranging from single-use bottles, cans, take-away/fast food containers, take-away coffee cups, crisp packets, bags, construction-related packaging lost from unsecured loads and so on. A lot of these items are either made of or include plastic.
Currently, the most trafficked UK roads (particularly across the south-east) are infested by litter. The trend of accumulation has gradually increased over the last decade following the severe budget cuts experienced by local authorities nationwide which, in return, have drastically reduced funding to grounds maintenance, including routine litter sweeping on roads, bin emptying, etc. However, the primary cause is the poor behaviour of a part of the population that does not respect the public good and fails to understand the consequences of its actions.
Littered waste, via a number of pathways, is highly likely to reach watercourses, ultimately ending up in the sea. However, it can also remain entangled in hedgerows or tree branches or be buried over time, undermining wildlife’s livelihood and contaminating soil.
For example, close-up observation and aerial tree surveys have revealed that more and more bird nests include plastic debris; it is also common that plastic items are ingested by wildlife because mistaken for food, affecting the digestive system and/or causing suffocation. Littered waste constitutes:
- A severe hazard to wildlife health
- A threat to the quality of our watercourses
- A long-term threat to the quality of our soil
- A driver of social degradation by spoiling the landscape, creating a perception of decline, undermining people’s right to enjoy outdoor spaces.
Through this petition, I am calling on the government to take responsibility for the ongoing environmental crisis and make provision to tackle effectively this particular matter. In line with what is being done by other countries, the actions could include:
• Rolling out a multi-channel, nationwide media campaign (trains, buses, billboards, newspapers, TV, radio, social media) to remind the population that littering is an offence and explaining the associated problems, both to do with the natural environment and human health
• Encourage citizens to remove litter, in the fashion of the #take3forthesea campaign rolled out on Australian beaches – a cost effective way of cleaning up while creating a sense of ownership of the problem
• Develop a robust enforcement system, issue fines, create a perception that if caught, the consequences may be severe (alike drink and driving, using phones while driving, etc.).
• Invest in the infrastructure – provide more bins, re-open recycling facilities closed as a result of budget cuts, increase the frequencies of litter sweeping, identify effective ways to discourage littering in laybys, etc.
• Allocate adequate funding to local authorities to ensure that litter sweeping and collection is carried out on a regular basis, preventing build-up and subsequent dispersal. While there is a strong case for re-educating the population not to litter, it will be a while before this is achieved and waste must be removed from the environment in the meantime.
• Consider introducing a tax on fast-food and other businesses that indirectly drive littering – Mc Donald’s packaging is amongst the most widespread litter items found on road verges.
• Introduce a bottle-return scheme
• Provide incentives to the business sector to develop alternatives to plastic packaging that biodegrade quickly, without causing long-term, hazardous contamination
• Encourage/require (through incentives and legislation) the FMCG industry to phase out unnecessary packaging and single-use plastic products that can be easily replaced with more sustainable alternatives (or removed altogether).
I am a EU citizen (Italian), and have lived more or less continuously in the UK since 2005. I work in the environmental sector as an ecologist and I am a committed environmentalist. My petition is substantiated by several years’ worth of observation in the field and several of the solutions proposed have been either experienced/observed abroad or put forward by forward-thinking, environmentally literate policy makers. As far as I am concerned, I am constantly seeking ways of reducing carbon footprint and live more economically, reducing pressure on resources and preserving a decent space on Earth to other forms of life. I have a 9 month old son to whom I'd like to hand over an enjoyable and safe place to live.
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