Spotting a whole new kind of litter in 2020? You’re not alone

17th December 2020

More and more of us are seeing a rise in gloves and masks as litter in our areas – a reminder of our throwaway culture. We’re telling the government: our flawed systems for managing waste need to be updated.

We’ve done some new research to check in on litter in recent months, and what we’ve found is a good reminder that the government has work to do in updating our waste and recycling systems.

If you’ve seen the odd dropped mask around, you’re in good company; over three-quarters of the people that we asked said they’ve seen that sort of litter (personal protective equipment, or PPE) around during the coronavirus pandemic. Noticing litter is one thing, but taking action is next, and more than four out of five of you told CPRE, in a survey run for us by YouGov, that you’d like to see the government doing more to tackle litter.

This is a cause close to our hearts here at CPRE; we helped to bring in the plastic bag charge to reduce plastic waste and littering, with remarkable success, and we’ve long been campaigning for the deposit return scheme that the government had promised. These deposit return systems help keep some types of waste being recycled and therefore reduce litter, and we feel this is now more important than ever.

A voice for a generation

A young girl sitting down holding a litter picking device
Isla Lester, litter activist extraordinaire

Don’t take our word for the importance of this, though- we’ve been working with nine-year-old anti-litter advocate and CPRE Green Clean participant Isla Lester. Isla told us what she’d like to see happen to help cut out litter and needless waste altogether:

‘It would be good if environmental issues were part of school lessons. Children need to be shown what polluting our planet really does. We need to see it for ourselves by going outside – having trips to the sea to look at the impact that litter has on beaches and sea life, and then doing things like litter picking. I think local businesses should also help by putting things in place to not add to waste in their areas, but to get rid of it.

‘We need everybody to work as a team to make a difference.’

We agree. There’s a role for all of us in making the change. And as so many of us have been using our wonderful local spaces more during the pandemic (our survey said that over a third of us said they’ve spent more time in the countryside since the start of lockdown and nearly a third of adults have spent more time in parks), there are things we can all do, like Isla, to care for these areas.

'We need everybody to work as a team to make a difference.'
Isla Lester, young litter campaigner

If you’re keen, keep an eye on the work we do to reduce waste and our regular Green Clean activities, which help tidy up those lovely local green spaces that are so important for our wellbeing. But this isn’t just about us.

Action from the top

We need to see the government moving, not stalling over introducing the deposit return scheme that would allow us to recycle lots of our waste and get a deposit payment back when we do. We were promised this scheme back in 2018, following huge public support – but now, over two years later, these plans continue to be delayed further following pressure from drinks manufacturers among others.

'By investing in solutions to address litter, we can deal with the long-lasting problem once and for all.'
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive

Our research showed that none of us are happy about this, with the findings showing that more delays would be unpopular. And it’s not just about government policy but about businesses, too – 60% of you agreed that organisations that produce single-use items should do more to ensure they’re disposed of in the right way.

Our chief executive, Crispin Truman, had this to say.

‘Ministers must follow through on their pledges to tackle litter. By investing in solutions to address litter, we can deal with the long-lasting problem once and for all.

‘That means no more delays on a fully inclusive deposit return scheme, which should be introduced by 2023 at the latest. Hugely successful in other European countries, these schemes are proven to help drive unprecedented recycling rates and ensure thousands of tons of litter don’t end up in the countryside.

‘Our current system has been failing for a long time – the pandemic simply put a spotlight on the waste crisis – and it’s high time ministers stepped in.’

Man and woman walking under bridge with litter picking equipment