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Litter costs Europe £10 billion a year

18 December 2014

Cleansing public places in the towns and countryside across the EU costs £10 billion every year – that's around £20 per person per year.

That's according to the Clean Europe Network, which held the first ever Stop Litter Now! Summit in Brussels on 9-10th December 2014. 

The main conclusions of the event were that people, not companies, cause litter but manufacturers and retailers of products that often turn up as litter must be made responsible for promoting better behaviour by their customers. 

The Clean Europe Network brings together leading NGOs and charities specialised in promoting cleaner towns and countryside. During a panel debate at the conference, the Network's president Derek Robertson said: "A litter-free Europe can become reality by 2030 if businesses get behind the drive for better prevention of litter and more recycling on-the-go.

"If we want to stop litter then we have to change the way people behave out-of-home. That requires clever, innovative information, education and communications campaigns and the right infrastructure for collecting end-of-life products in public spaces.”

But fellow expert panellists (drawn from packaging collection and recycling schemes, environmental NGOs, the European Parliament and the fast moving consumer goods sector) felt goodwill alone was not enough. They unanimously concluded that EU laws are needed to ensure that producers take action.

"Policymakers should not make the mistake of focusing uniquely on waste management solutions if they want to cut litter in our streets,” Eamonn Bates, secretary general of the Network, said. "The best way to cut litter is to convince people not to drop it, that’s a behaviour challenge not a waste management issue. Litter prevention campaigns must be sustained over time and constantly reinvented to keep the message fresh, alive and relevant.”

The event also highlighted some of the common approaches being developed by the Clean Europe Network to tackle litter prevention in practical ways at European level. 

"We are developing a common European methodology for litter measurement which will be piloted across Europe in 2015,” continued Robertson, who is CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful, which describes itself as the environmental conscience of Scotland. "That will help us focus down on where the real problems lie in Europe and help us all in talking a common language of litter prevention in future.”

Today’s on-the-go lifestyles increase the risk that used products will be discarded irresponsibly, the Clean Europe Network says. Litter frequently includes cigarette ends, all sorts of wrappers and packaging, newspapers and magazines, fliers and leaflets, shopping bags and chewing gum.