UK waste management firm FCC's survey reveals public responsibility for takeaway litter

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UK waste management firm FCC's survey reveals public responsibility for takeaway litter

May 23, 2019 - 11:18
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NORTHAMPTON, UK, May 23, 2019 (Press Release) -Consumer responsibility is the core issue when it comes to ‘on the go’ littering, reveals new research from FCC Environment (FCC).

In a YouGov survey commissioned by FCC, one of the UK’s leading waste and resource management companies, most respondents said the individual consumer (68%) has the main responsibility for litter from takeaway packaging. Only a minority believed takeaway litter to be the responsibility of the retailer (9%), the packaging producer (8%) or the local council (5%).

FCC’s poll coincides with Government’s current scrutiny of producer responsibility for packaging waste and effective deposit return schemes to counter littering as part of its Resource and Waste Strategy. It also aligns with the national Litter Strategy and its focus on the importance of public engagement and awareness, combined with local authority enforcement, when it comes to cleaning up our country and making dropping litter unacceptable.

Announcing FCC’s findings at this year’s LetsRecycle Live (22-23 May), FCC Regional Director Steve Longdon said: “With its Waste and Resources Strategy, Government is pushing us towards a DRS system for consumers’ ‘on the go’ lifestyles while holding producers accountable for packaging [so as to reduce littering and drive up recycling]. At the same time, its Litter Strategy is driving forward measures to curb littering behavior. Our research makes it clear that the public recognize their responsibility for littering. It shows we all need to play our part in cleaning up our streets and countryside.”

Other findings from the FCC / YouGov study revealed that almost a third of those surveyed (32%) said they wouldn’t pay anything extra for 100% recyclable / environmentally friendly packaging for their takeaway food or drink. On the other hand, however, over a quarter (28%) of respondents would be willing to pay 5% extra. Results also showed that many are confused about what takeaway packaging can and can’t be recycled

When it comes to keeping our streets clean, one local authority is taking decisive action to tackle takeaway litter. East Northamptonshire Council’s Waste Services Manager Charlotte Tompkins said: “We introduced a zero-tolerance policy to litter several years ago, investigating and taking appropriate legal action including cautions, fixed penalty fines, and prosecution to deter culprits and encourage responsible waste management. Where we find takeaway litter, we have been working collaboratively with the retailer to trace back the individual who purchased it.”

Charlotte explained: “To date, we have worked successfully with KFC and McDonald’s to trace ‘drive through’ users who have gone on to litter their fast food packaging. We have also worked with other names such as Coca-Cola to identify people behind packaging that has come to be fly-tipped in our area.

She added: “As an enforcing authority, we would like to see fast food packaging have some identifying label added to the boxes. While it is acceptable to put the responsibility onto the producers, it is also important for individuals to consider their personal duty to manage their own waste responsibly.”

The scale and cost of the national litter problem are only too clear, according to official Government and environmental figures:

  • Street cleaning cost local government £778m in 2015/16 and a significant portion of this will have been spent on clearing up avoidable litter; money which could have been better spent on vital public services
  • Fast food, drink and confectionary packaging are one of the commonest forms of litter, affecting 80% of sites surveyed. The clean-up of this litter costs councils over £100m each year.

FCC’s findings have further significance following the first-ever comprehensive research into the environmental impacts of disposable takeaway food containers. Carried out by the University of Manchester (2018), this study estimated there are 25 million takeaway containers per year being used in the European Union alone. It also said that finding a way to recycle disposable takeaway containers could help reduce equivalent greenhouse gases emissions generated annually by 55,000 cars.

FCC survey findings:

  • The majority (68%) said the individual consumer has main responsibility for the litter from takeaway packaging. A minority believed the main responsibility for takeaway litter is either the retailer (9%), the packaging producer (8%) or the local council (5%).
  • People are confused about what can be recycled and what can’t: most are confident that certain takeaway packaging can be recycled – such as glass bottles (88%); aluminium drinks cans (84%); cardboard containers / wrapping (83%); and plastic bottles (80%). But only half think paper coffee cups (52%); drinks cartons (47%); or plastic containers and wrapping (46%) can be recycled. And the minority of people think plastic straws (20%) and Styrofoam containers and cups (10%) are recyclable.
  • Almost a third of people (32%) would not be willing to pay anything extra on top of the original cost of a takeaway food/ drink item for 100% recyclable / environmentally friendly packaging for their takeaway food or drink, but over a quarter (28%) would be willing to pay 5% extra.
  • Plastic bottles are the takeaway packaging items that most people recall seeing littered in the past 24 hours (42%), followed by aluminium drinks cans (36%) and plastic containers or wrapping (34%).
  • More than 6 in 10 (62%) see plastic bottles as frequently littered takeaway items, while more than half (55%) see aluminium drinks cans.
  • Over half of the public (51%) believe litter from takeaway food and drink has increased over the past five years.