THE BLOG

Is Litter Too Boring for the Environment Movement?

21/05/2015 12:10 BST | Updated 20/05/2016 10:59 BST

Another general election slides by with barely a murmur about environmental issues despite growing evidence that we are placing increasing strains on the earth's capacity to provide the resources desired by modern lifestyles.

It should be a further wake-call for environmental groups that we are still failing to engage with the mainstream public. One view is that by concentrating on large abstract issues such as climate change we have lost contact with the everyday concerns of people.

One such concern is litter. Recent public polling undertaken by the charity Hubbub discovered that an overwhelming 86% believe dropping litter is a disgusting habit. It is a classic mundane, boring everyday issue that falls under the agenda of most environmental organisations.

With no concerted pressure, government has been able to let the matter slide. There is no national strategy resulting in fast food litter and fly-tipping in England increasing by 20% in the last year. Litter levels have not reduced for 12 years and dealing with the problem costs taxpayers around £850m a year.

Hubbub is a charity taking a fresh look at environmental issues and has been approached by a range of organisations asking us to explore different approaches to addressing the problem. At its heart cutting litter is a classic behavior change challenge and we have scoured the world for the latest thinking and techniques that have worked successfully. This has resulted in commissioning talking bins from the Netherlands, constructing interactive works of art and partnering with a social enterprise which turns chewing gum into new products.

These interventions will be tested in a six month campaign in Villiers Street, London. It is a fascinating street with the second largest footfall in London and is cleaned seven times a day. The street contains multinational headquarters, a plethora of fast food outlets, Heaven nightclub, three pubs and is near The Connection charity which provides services to Westminster's homeless, a borough holding a quarter of the UK's rough sleepers.

Historically the street has links with Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. To bring this history to light we aim to create a sense of community starting with a 'My Street is Your Street' photo gallery featuring people from the local community.

The impact of the interventions will be independently evaluated and the results openly shared results helping others learn from our experience. Our aim is that the campaign will act as a catalyst for more concerted activity across the UK. To support this we have worked with a wide range of groups to create a national litter manifesto. This will act as a unifying point giving a clear message to government and others on what needs to be done to create cleaner streets.

Over the next six months we will see if our approach successfully creates added momentum to keeping our streets free of litter. It may not be the most exciting of issues but we hope our approach will help inform other environmental campaigns. We also wish to demonstrate to the general public that the environmental movement does address the things that are important to local communities as well as the global challenges of climate change.