Mark Sayers, principal consultant for producer compliance scheme Ecosurety, argues that producers of packaging are likely to have a more significant role in efforts to tackle littering.
The scourge of litter affects everybody in the UK, whether they live in a town or city, and costs local taxpayers £778m a year.
The government’s Litter Strategy for England (published in April – see letsrecycle.com story) will inevitably mean changes for UK producers, changes that will need to be tackled head on, and cover everything from design, resource management, to how end users dispose of or recover materials. Earlier this month, the Trade Association Group (TAG) called on the government to take urgent action to reverse England’s declining recycling rates and reduce waste crime, which costs the economy around £600m a year.
Notwithstanding the terrible eyesore of pollution and waste on our streets and motorway verges, the strategy also highlights the growing problem of how diversely UK household waste is handled by different local authorities. So many different systems mean it is near impossible to achieve a clean and consistent feed stock to make recycling a viable alternative to exporting waste, landfill or incineration.
Littering is carried out by a greater proportion of the population than you may think – 28% people admitted to littering in a Keep Britain Tidy study, so driving consumer behaviour change is more important than ever. How are we to deal with those who flout laws or discard waste irresponsibly? Whether we dig through our general waste bin for recyclables that are lost from doorstep collections, deal with the more visible blight to our high streets, or the fly tipping spoiling our countryside, littering and loss of resources from consumer waste will have to change. A public anti-litter campaign is slated for 2018, but can this really succeed to make littering as unacceptable as smoking in bars, or speeding?
All of the above suggest that producers will bear considerable responsibility when it comes to creating behavioural change in the public, because the public will not change on its own. Producers will have to play a greater role in responsible design, such as the EU strategy to implement eco-design and packaging design measures, both of which we support.
But we also believe that if businesses are to have increased responsibility, they also need greater control of both product supply as well as end of life resource management, a circular economy model that brings rewards and value to a producer material sourcing and manufacture supply chain.
And we want to see financial penalties, such as on the spot fines used more widely on individuals who litter. It is too easy to turn to producers and ask for more money alone. We want to see manufacturers and recyclers offered more tax-based incentives to promote better resource efficiency, to ensure the right balance between mandatory and voluntary measures versus rewards for market leaders. We want to see these rules implemented in the same way across the UK’s nations, to create a level playing field for all players in the supply chain. Finally, we want a consistent message to go out to individual litterers in all those nations that it is just not acceptable to litter.
The above mix of consumer sanctions and industry incentives encourages change throughout supply chain, aims to reduce litter in most visible areas as a priority, and could create increased powers to penalise littering through on-the-spot fines. We believe the UK consumer needs to be made to care even more about responsible waste disposal that leads to improved recycling rates, while companies and organisations that always do their best to uphold virtuous recycling philosophies should be rewarded, and those that do not, should be penalised.
The government’s Litter Strategy working group is making good progress, and is actively engaging with industry. Now we want to see producers, retailers, local authorities, waste management firms and recyclers come together to create mandatory and voluntary measures, as well as develop a consistent message that changes the behaviour of the public. There will also be changes for producers, but those who grasp the opportunity, like all early adopters, will reap the most rewards.