This morning I went to Policy Exchange to speak at the launch of a new report on the problem of litter. ‘Litterbugs' was launched by the President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Bill Bryson, who is leading their ‘Stop the Drop' campaign and recently made a passionate documentary on the issue, ‘Notes from a Dirty Island'.
We were joined by a Government Minister, Lord Hunt, who wasn't even sure that litter is a growing problem. Just about everyone else knows that it is. There is five times as much litter dropped now than there was in the 1960s, and it's costing councils a staggering £500 million a year to clean it up.
So what's the solution? Tougher enforcement can't be the only answer, particularly when - as Bill Bryson has pointed out - there is about a 1 in 500,000 chance of detection. As a general rule, I think a better approach in environmental policy is, wherever possible, to give people incentives to do the right thing. For instance, the Policy Exchange report points to international examples where bottle deposit schemes have been introduced and littering has reduced as a result.
And instead of automatically reaching for a regulatory solution, we should be looking at encouraging responsibility at all levels - individual, civic, governmental and corporate. So we should look at producer agreements to help deal with litter and change behaviour. The businesses which make a profit from products like gum have a shared responsibility to help stop their waste product from disfiguring our streets and being picked up on our shoes.
Successful campaigns to change behaviour need another element - leadership. The Policy Exchange report pointed out that there used to be high profile campaigns to clean up Britain, but we don't see much of them now. A cleaner Britain would make a huge difference to people's quality of life, but we need a government which cares about the issue and is willing to show a lead.