Litter & Packaging


Litter is any waste in the wrong place. Individuals create litter through thoughtless or anti-social behaviour. Only individuals can therefore prevent it.

Many people think that litter and packaging are synonymous but statistically packaging is not the largest component.  However by its nature packaging catches the eye and is remembered. It is, therefore, an important issue for INCPEN and its members.

INCPEN works closely with anti-litter campaigners supporting their efforts to influence behaviour to reduce littering as a whole, not just the littering of packaging. INCPEN also encourages its members to carry the ‘Tidyman’ logo on the packaging for goods that are likely to be consumed outdoors, such as drinks, sandwiches, crisps, cigarettes. Some companies have ‘personalised’ the Tidyman logo to attract more attention to the anti-littering message.

Tidyman Logo

What makes up litter?

Packaging may sometimes be the most visible component of litter but, contrary to popular misconception, it is not the most prevalent.

According to a study by Keep Britain Tidy. The vast majority of litter is accounted for by chewing gum and cigarette ends.

Litter Composition 2014

  2014 Item Count 2014 %
Chewing gum 2,285 24.2%
Cigarette ends 2,810 29.7%
Packaging 2,537 26.8%
- of which are drink containers and tops 655 6.9%
- of which are carrier & other bags 72 0.7%
Other 1,814 19.3%
TOTAL 9,446 100%
Source: Keep Britain Tidy Litter Composition Survey of England Dec 2013 to March 2014

Why do people drop litter?

Careless and thoughtless behaviour causes litter. When asked most people acknowledge that it is wrong to drop litter, yet many of these same people do.

Research shows that nearly half of us in the UK rarely plan meals ahead of time and grab something to eat when 'on the go' (Source Busy Lives report , Rexam - December 2004). Eating on the go means needing to dispose of packaging on the go - and in irresponsible or thoughtless hands that can mean litter. In a few areas, there is still a lack of 'litter infrastructure' ie. rubbish bins and regular street cleaning, but many councils have made great improvements in recent years at considerable cost to local taxpayers.

How should we tackle litter?

INCPEN advocates a three-pronged approach to tackling litter: -

1.Education, education, education

The ultimate solution is to change public attitudes, and thereby behaviour, so that littering becomes socially unacceptable.

That's why INCPEN supports education and anti-littering campaigns, works with Keep Britain Tidy and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and provides its own resources for schools that carry anti-litter messages.

2.Street cleaning

 Councils already invest heavily in street-cleaning. Under Part IV of the 1990 Environmental Protection Act, councils failing to keep an area clean and free from litter can be fined up to £2,500.

Pilot projects for the Clean Neighbourhoods Act (2005) have shown that when companies and councils co-operate in cleaning litter from the streets, it can be reduced by 30% (Source DEFRA , June 2004)

This is known as the 'Disneyworld Effect' – it has been proven that people are less likely to drop litter in a place that is already spotless, such as Disneyworld (where cast members clean up litter in front of the public rather than leave it to accumulate for cleaning up out of sight after everyone has gone home).

Litter bins can be designed to complement their location.

Litter Bins in Beijing
Bejing litter bins at Lama Temple

3.Law enforcement

Where education fails, fines should be used - The Clean Neighbourhoods Act proposes greater powers for town councils and the Environment Agency to impose on-the-spot fines for litter. INCPEN welcomes this measure.

How not to tackle litter

Recycling and litter are often jumbled up in people’s minds. Recycling is not a cure for litter. People who recycle usually care enough to dispose of all waste carefully. Those who litter can’t be bothered to find a bin, so they are unlikely to be motivated by thoughts of recycling.

Biodegradability is another mythical solution to litter. Even a totally degradable item dropped as litter takes time to degrade - time in which that piece of litter will continue to blight the environment. If the item is food waste, then it will attract vermin as well pose an eyesore.

Deposits on certain types of packaging (usually drinks containers) are sometimes suggested as a way to reduce litter. This has been shown not to work in practice. Studies in the USA, where some States have ‘Bottle Bills,’ have shown that deposits have negligible impact on the total amount of litter and are the most expensive way of trying to eliminate just one type of litter.

In New York, deposits even led to an increase in litter as bins were upturned by people scavenging for drinks containers to reclaim the deposits. In England, alcohol and soft drinks containers usually singled out for a deposit represent a very small proportion - just 6% of all items littered (Source: Keep Britain Tidy Litter Composition Survey of England Dec 2013 to March 2014)