With over 250,000 miles of roads in the UK, and 8,000 miles in Devon alone, keeping our roadsides clean amidst an unrelenting stream of discarded litter is a considerable challenge. This is a behavioural problem which creates significant operational and environmental challenges.
Whilst not all roadside littering is deliberate, this is not an excuse. We all have a duty of care to prevent the ‘escape’ of waste such as thrown from vehicles or insecure loads, meaning roadside littering is entirely avoidable.
In some countries there is very little, if any roadside litter visible.
Despite our growing awareness of the importance of protecting our environment and the significant value roadside verges provide for wildlife and plants, litter is the single greatest threat to these undisturbed habitats. Roadside litter (such as cans and bottles) traps and kills an estimated 3 million small animals every year.
Litter also causes flooding due to blocked drains and culverts.
So if it is such a big problem, why don’t councils clear it up?
It is estimated that the UK already spends over £1 billion every year keeping our streets clean. Much of this is avoidable but the problem is even harder to manage with over 500,000 miles of roadsides (both sides of the road network) in the UK to monitor and clean. This is the equivalent of litter picking from Earth to the Moon.
The main obstacles for clearing roadside litter are;
- Roadside litter is cumulative so what we see (particularly when the leaves are off the trees) is historic litter plus the regular addition of new litter thrown from vehicles.
- Because the network is so large, vehicle littering is difficult to enforce despite technological advances. However if you have dashcam footage of vehicle littering speak to your local authority.
- Roads can be dangerous places to work so the safety of workers next to, or between, often fast or busy roads limits the amount of general litter picking taking place. Working on roads involves complying with highway operations guidance and there is also a requirement to keep traffic moving freely.
- Closing a road to pick litter is only possible where the litter causes an obstacle. This means for routine litter clearance expensive traffic management can required and a lot of litter pickers!
- Local Authorities are required by law to keep ‘their land’ (which includes roads) clear of litter but only ‘as far as practical’. Dense scrub or a dangerous road or verge seriously impacts on the authorities’ ability to do this. Litterers don’t care where their litter ends up.
- National Highways are responsible for motorways and major A roads and already collect approximately 83 bags of litter (costing over £3,000) per mile from their network every year. Further opportunities are also taken to collect litter as part of scheduled works.
- Local authorities and National Highways also work together to promote messaging and co-ordinate litter clearance opportunities, but road closures don’t always happen where the litter is, or during daylight!
- Picking litter before mowing or scrub clearance is not always possible because the litter may be entangled in the scrub, this is a recognised issue and difficult to overcome. You can’t get to it until it has been shredded!
Not dropping litter from vehicles is the easiest and cheapest solution, but for litter that is thrown there are many legitimate and costly obstacles to overcome to retrieve it. So easy to throw, hard to collect.
If you see vehicle littering, report it, and on local, slower and safer roads (<40mph), community litter picking can make a huge difference. With any litter picking, if in doubt, report it. It is never worth injury or death picking up crisp packets. Once the historic litter has been picked, occasional maintenance picking will keep on top of it and particularly if you promote and build local support for the work you are doing. People are often delighted to see positive litter picking action in their area to the point that their journey is not impacted by it.
[av_toggle title='What can I do to help?' tags='' custom_id='' av_uid='av-kmw919w5' sc_version='1.0']
With safety in mind, a ‘2-minute litter pick’ is a great way to get involved and improve the local area. This could just be picking up a few bits of rubbish every day on your way to work, or a more organised litter pick. The Clean Devon Partnership aims to highlight the fantastic community initiatives already taking place and offer consistent support throughout the County.
If every person in Devon picked up 1 piece of rubbish every day, there would be 800,000 fewer bits of litter, every day.
The power of one, in large numbers, should not be understated. See our Get Involved pages for further information.