Littering is a big problem globally. In a 2017/18 report carried out by Keep Britain Tidy, it was reported that 18% of the 7,200 sites tested across England did not meet an acceptable level for litter. The report lists 10 of the most common pieces of litter found. We’re going to explore the top three troublesome items and how littering them is damaging the environment.
The most commonly found pieces of litter were smoking-related; this covers everything from lighters to the packaging and its content. Most of a cigarette’s innards and paper wrapping disintegrate when smoked, but not everything gets burned. The cigarette filters, also referred to as butts or ends, are leftover and it’s estimated that only a third of these end up in the bin. The majority are flicked out of a window or dropped in the street.
Cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate that when not disposed of correctly, leaves plastic, nicotine, heavy metals and many other chemicals it has absorbed into the surrounding environment.
When cigarette butts are littered, they often find their way into waterways and eventually, oceans. In water, they are hazardous to marine animals that think they’re food and ingest them, as well as leaking toxins that can be harmful to marine life.
Cigarette filters can take years to degrade, but as they do, they break down into microplastics. It’s estimated that every cigarette butt takes 10 years to biodegrade in the ocean.
Some places have designated boxes for you to put cigarette ends in but if you’re somewhere that doesn’t, please find a normal general waste bin to dispose of it. It’s very important to make sure that the cigarette is completely extinguished before putting in any bin.
The second most found pieces of litter were types of confectionery material including chocolate and sweet wrappers, lollipop sticks etc. but not the confectionery itself (this section does not include crisp packets, biscuit wrappers, cake wrappers etc.).
Confectionary wrappers come in a wide variety of materials, some easier to recycle than others, but most are mixed with plastic. As we know anything with plastic in it that is not disposed of correctly doesn’t break down for many years.
This packaging is usually small and lightweight and when littered, it could be eaten by wildlife or end up going into waterways and eventually oceans. Once in our oceans, it is likely to be ingested by marine life or it will break down into microplastics.
Hold on to that empty sweet packet until you find a bin, most of the time a general waste bin is the correct one.
Non-alcoholic drink packaging
Soft drinks are an easy item to pick up on the go, but these readily available, single-use soft drink containers are the third most common items littered in England. Drink containers are made up of bottles, cans, cartons, ring pack etc.
The majority of drink containers once empty can easily be recycled through a mixed recycling collection. If littered, glass, plastic and aluminium cans will take hundreds of years to decompose. What’s worse is that aluminium and glass are materials that can be recycled over and over again without any loss in purity, so when these items are discarded on the street they not only will blight the country with litter but also lose precious materials.
As well as the problems mentioned with plastics breaking down into microplastics in the ocean, a single plastic bottle would take up to 450 years to bio-degrade while the plastic ring pack could take 400 years, that’s assuming it doesn’t get ingested first. It’s estimated that an aluminium can will take 200 years to biodegrade in the ocean, and a glass bottle could take 1 million years. All of these will outlive us on this planet. Is littering worth leaving such damaging consequences for generations to come?
Next time you have some rubbish, keep hold of it until you reach a suitable bin. If you want to go one better than just putting your own rubbish in the right bin, why not take a litter pick and a rubbish bag out with you when you next go for a walk.
If you have any household or business waste you need collecting safely and legally, send over an email to our sales team on email@example.com or call the office on 03330 433 033.