Litter has become a blight on our beaches, city centre and housing estates in Sunderland.
Discarded packaging and broken glass bottles have become too familiar during the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the UK but which have their root in a much more long-term problem – the UK’s litter epidemic.
Today we are standing up to it, and urging you to do the same, with our new campaign Don’t Trash Our Future.
Sunderland Live, together with local community and information platform InYourArea.co.uk and our nationwide network of sister newspapers and websites, have teamed up with Clean Up Britain to push for changes we believe will leave no choice but for both irresponsible litter louts and the authorities who have the power to enforce the law but so often don’t to take long-lasting action.
Our campaign has two aims:
To increase the maximum punishment for littering to a £1,000 fine or 100 hours of supervised community litter picking
To make it compulsory for local authorities to enforce the law on littering
We are urging you to sign our petition (inyourarea.co.uk/DTOF) to see it – with the aim of reaching 100,000 signatures so we can lobby the Government to change the legislation and shed the country of its long-held reputation as a litter-plagued nation.
We’re also calling on councils to flex their muscles in the fight against rubbish and make far better use of the powers they already have available.
Sunderland resident Barry Young has been passionately cleaning the streets of Washington, injuring himself and putting himself at risk in the process.
The 51-year-old said people aren’t aware of the consequences of littering, in particular leaving broken glass in public place.
He spends his days cleaning up the C2C cycle path.
However, he said the worst spot for glass and litter is the bridge over Washington Highway and said it’s so bad that dog walkers have to carry their pets over the bridge so they don’t cut their paws.
Barry Young said: “It’s quite bad in Washington, but it’s bad in a lot of areas now.
“A lot of the things I pick up are beer cans, pop cans, crisp packets, you see the same things all the time.
“At the moment I’m seeing a lot of face masks and gloves on the cycle path and I see them as contaminated items because you could catch something from them.
“It’s worse in some areas than others, it’s particularly bad in industrial estates.
“Quite often kids think it’s funny to pick up and smash glass bottles because it’s funny but one bottle makes thousands of shards.
“Anything that sharp is as dangerous as a knife.
“When a broken bottle is lying face-up on the ground it’s so dangerous. If a kid is playing in the grass and it’s hidden it could really cause some damage.
“The problem is it’s often hidden in the grass, it’s like a glass land mine.”
It comes after a 13-year-old boy needed 15 stitches after falling directly onto broken glass left by lockdown litterers on a field in Washington.
His injuries were so horrific that doctors said they looked like “stab wounds” because they were so deep and left the boy scarred for life.
Barry runs a Facebook group called Washington Area Support Hub to raise awareness of littering.
He is joined in his fight against littering by local resident Carol Attewell, who has been litter picking since 2008 and is part of the group Keep Washington Tidy.
She said: “Before lockdown, the group were meeting up regularly but I’ve still been going out to pick litter on my own. I’m out almost every day.
“Whenever I go out and pick up a bag full of litter, I would say about 90 per cent of it is recyclable. There are cans, plastic bottles sweet papers, chocolate papers.
“It’s not very uplifting to live in a place where there’s litter. You see mattresses being dumped and rubbish piling up and you see that people have to live in these places. It’s such a shame when a lot of it can be recycled.
“Other people go out and pick up litter and I do get thanks when I’m out so people do care about what’s happening.
“If you accept people won’t be educated and won’t do anything about it then nothing will get better.”
Carol said she believes a reduction in the number of fast-food outlets may help the amount of litter dumped on our streets and thinks alcohol should only be sold in limited places.
Shocking pictures from the scene showed empty alcohol bottles, plastic bags and food packaging sprawled across the beach as the council warned that those caught littering will be fined.
And just this month they urged residents “not to be a tosser” in a post appealing for people to always put their litter in a bin.
Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council and Cabinet Secretary, Councillor Michael Mordey said: “Most people in Sunderland manage to dispose of their litter and waste legally and appropriately.
“Sadly, there is a minority of people who do not and Sunderland City Council does take action against those responsible.
“There are more staff fighting fly-tipping with enforcement officers on foot catching litterbugs or the smokers who drop their cigarette butts.
“We have deployed surveillance cameras at fly-tipping hot spots and fly-tippers vehicles are being seized.
“We always encourage anyone with littering or fly-tipping information to report it immediately at https://www.sunderland.gov.uk/report-flytipping or 0191 520 5550.
“Anyone booking a ‘white van’ for waste removal can also be held liable by the courts if their rubbish is then fly-tipped.
“It’s far cheaper and convenient to use the council’s collection service and get six bulky items disposed of legally for only £10 – www.sunderland.gov.uk/article/12143/Bulky-waste-collection.”
A Freedom of Information request sent by Clean Up Britain to 169 councils in England and Wales found the majority (56%) were issuing less than one fine per week for littering and more than two dozen (16%) don’t issue fines at all.
In a recent survey conducted by InYourArea.co.uk, more than 7,500 respondents overwhelmingly said littering has a negative effect on them and their neighbourhoods and classed it as a big problem.
JB Gill, a former member of superstar pop group JLS who is now a passionate advocate for education and the countryside, has signed up as an ambassador for Don’t Trash Our Future.
He said: “It’s great to see that people recognise that litter is a public health concern and a major problem. The only way to stop the damage being done to our health, nature and wildlife is to sign the Don’t Trash our Future petition, object to local councils not enforcing fines and demand a higher penalty for those dropping litter.”
John Read, founder of Clean Up Britain, said: “Clean Up Britain is very excited to be running the Don’t Trash Our Future campaign with InYourArea.co.uk
“We know from the countless people who contact us that there is a huge desire – from people all over the country – to try and solve the litter epidemic.
“We are all so fortunate to live in a beautiful country, but equally, it’s so depressing to see so many people littering it.
“This has to stop, as it shames Britain.
“There has to be zero tolerance towards littering.
“Littering is symptomatic of a lack of pride in our local communities, and a lack of respect for other people and the environment generally.
“This campaign is about challenging and reversing these negative sentiments, and saying enough is enough.
“Let’s be grateful for what we have, take care of our country and, above all, ‘Don’t Trash Our Future’.”
Mr Read added: “The Government needs to start getting serious about confronting people who litter.
“It’s a criminal offence to litter and it needs to be treated that way.
“Fines need to be increased to a level which shows the Government – and society generally – will no longer tolerate this antisocial and selfish behaviour.
“In addition, we also need to ensure fines are a credible deterrent, by making it compulsory
for councils to enforce the law, which currently it’s not.”
Journalist and television presenter Jeremy Paxman is Clean Up Britain’s patron. He said: “There is only one sustainable and effective solution to littering: changing the behaviour of people who do it. Nothing else will work.
“It pollutes the environment. It’s dangerous to humans and animals.
“It depresses people because mucky surroundings make them feel worthless. It’s expensive – councils across the UK spend over a billion pounds a year trying to clean it up.”
The campaign has also received the backing of broadcaster and animal rights campaigner Clare Balding and her partner Alice Arnold.
Together, they said: “It’s very sad to see so much litter in this country, both in the countryside and in urban areas.
“It has a demoralising effect on all of us and, also, has a very negative impact on animals.
“A shocking reflection of this is that RSPCA vets, last year, treated over 5,000 cases of animals who’ve been injured by, ingested or become trapped by litter.
“We hope the Clean Up Britain and InYourArea national campaign, Don’t Trash Our Future, will change the attitudes and behaviour of people who do litter, and make us all take more care of the naturally beautiful country we are fortunate to share together.”
Further support has come from television host Gabby Logan and her husband Kenny, a former Scotland international rugby player turned broadcaster.
Together they said: “We’re urging everyone to get behind the ‘Don’t Trash Our Future’ national anti-litter campaign, and show how much we care about our naturally beautiful country. Littering is senseless, selfish and costly to us all.
It’s only a minority of people who do it, but it negatively affects the quality of life for absolutely everyone.
“To use the sporting analogy… it’s a self-inflicted, needless, own goal. It doesn’t cost a penny to do the socially-responsible right thing, and put your litter in a bin. Just do it! Please.”
Ed Walker, Editor-in-Chief of InYourArea.co.uk, said it’s time for littering to stop.
“InYourArea are proud to be working with Clean Up Britain to tackle the country’s litter and waste epidemic.
“Our users are sick of seeing their neighbourhoods being treated like rubbish dumps. Don’t Trash Our Future will hopefully make councils and members of the public think harder about the littering issue.”
The campaign has also received the backing of behavioural science expert Merle Van Der Akker, President of Behavioural Insights at Warwick Business School.
He said, “It is not about the absolute value of the fine, it’s about the message it sends.
“This level of fine tells you that this behaviour is deemed costly, and quite frankly unacceptable.
“Sometimes it does take drastic measures to get this message across. From a behavioural science perspective, presenting people with such a message triggers a response of shock, because of the sheer size of the fine.
“People then reason that if the fine is so big, the issue at hand must be of great importance or urgency. This is how you get people to pay attention and take action. No one wants to be fined £1000 for throwing away a £1 can of drink.”