The big litter problem: Which side of the fence is Clapham on?


Litter costs Lambeth £7.3million a year.


By Sarah Lingard

Clapham High Street was littered with debris last weekend after a 48 hour cleaning hiatus by Lambeth Council, in a bid to force residents to face up to the issue of littering.

In what looks like a scene from a disaster movie, piles of discarded rubbish and empty glass bottles line the streets and plastic carrier bags are carried along by the wind.

Lambeth Council was one of a number of authorities across England to support environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy last weekend in their ‘Which side of the fence?’ social experiment, and the effects were almost impossible to ignore.

Over a period of 48 hours, the council stopped cleaning one side of busy Clapham High Street in order to help the charity highlight the true impacts of littering.

From 6pm on Friday (November 15) to 6pm on Sunday, one side of the street, which is in no shortage of bars, clubs, cafes and fast food restaurants, was left to fend for itself in the never-ending battle against the clutter that rubbishes theUK’s towns and cities.

Meanwhile, the opposite side of the high street became a vision of the ideal – a clean and tidy promenade with barely as much as a fallen autumn leaf in sight.

The experiment aimed to expose just how much litter is dropped on our streets every day – an inconvenient truth which is normally hidden by local councils’ constant efforts to pick up after residents.

In fact, cleaning up after litter-bugs costs taxpayers almost £1billion a year across England, and more than £7.3m in Lambeth alone.

During the campaign, which attracted waves of activity across social networks as the debris steadily piled up, television presenter Kirstie Allsopp tweeted: “Dropping litter costs us £1billion a year, that’s a hell of a lot of nurses, teachers & money for child services.”

At a time when many local authorities are making cuts to much-needed service provisions, the experiment called in to question how much of this £1billion a year bill could be better invested, if only residents took more responsibility.

Councillor Imogen Walker, Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability, said: “In Lambeth more than £7.3m is spent on cleaning the streets every year. But the solution to this expensive problem is in all of our hands.”

Dropping litter in a public place is a crime, and is punishable under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act with a fine of between £50 and £80. But that is nothing compared to the £2,500 Magistrates can impose on an individual if the original fine is not paid.

But the council are offering tips on how both businesses and individuals in the area can do their bit.

“We want everybody to take responsibility for tackling litter and its causes. By taking some really simple steps; like reducing packaging and encouraging customers to dispose of litter properly, businesses can make a real difference.

“Similarly if people put their litter in bins or take it home with them, the money currently spent needlessly picking up litter could be put to better use. It’s time everyone realised the cost of keeping the roads in Lambeth clean and tidy,” Cllr Walker added.

Mike Freeman, salesman at Infinity Motorcycles on Clapham High Street, said on Sunday that most of the litter was dropped around KFC: “I walked past it this morning and it looked like a bomb’s gone off. There was stuff everywhere from Saturday night when people have been eating stuff, and they’ve just left the wrappers everywhere.”

And resident Conor Kiernan tweeted a picture of the unclean side of the street, almost carpeted with litter after only 27 hours.

“Please be more responsible people. 80% + of this litter was Micky D’s. Filthy,” He said.

Keep Britain Tidy’s ‘Great Litter Count’ study showed that KFC wrappers make up one per cent of London’s litter, while McDonald’s meal packaging makes up three per cent.

The count also revealed that the top five most littered brands in London are Coca Cola (seven per cent), Japan Tobacco International (six per cent), Mars and Cadbury each making up five per cent of the city’s litter respectively, and Walkers (four per cent) – showing up the capital’s litter bugs as cigarette and junk food lovers.

According to the London Borough of Lambeth budget book 12/13, the council had a growth in budget of £250,000 for night-time street cleaning (which is contracted out to Veolia Environmental Services) in 2013 compared to 2012 – around an extra £685 per night on last year’s budget.

So despite the extra cash, why is littering still such a problem in the borough, and can residents really be expected to take full responsibility when those using the high street still depend on the council to empty bins regularly?

Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive, Phil Barton, said: “It is time everyone realised the scale of the task facing local authorities in keeping the places we call home clean and tidy. “The question we all need to ask ourselves is ‘When it comes to litter, which side of the fence are you on?’.

“Local authorities are working tirelessly to deal with the problem of litter but they cannot solve the problem alone. They need support from individuals, communities and businesses,” he explained.

To find out more about litter and how you can do your bit, visit the Lambeth Council website at To sign the charity’s pledge to be on the right side of the fence when it comes to litter, visit

Photo courtesy of tgraham, with thanks.

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