Ramsgate is one of the most picturesque seaside towns in Kent but sometimes when you walk along some of the streets in Central Ramsgate you might be forgiven for thinking that the town was bidding for the title of “Litter Capital of Kent” and making a very convincing case.

Litter is a form of vandalism, which together with graffiti and poor maintenance of the public realm, are the three things that offend most peoples’ sense of civic pride and prevent people enjoying what would otherwise be an attractive historic town with much to offer residents and visitors alike.

As well as being unsightly, litter is a serious social, economic and environmental issue. It causes harm to communities and wildlife, and at a time when local authority budgets are coming under huge pressure it costs over £1billion each year to clear up. Yet it is entirely preventable.

The bigger picture

A recent Keep Britain Tidy national survey shed light on the state of England’s streets and unfortunately, it’s not good news, with the results showing that litter has increased dramatically since the survey was last carried out in 2014/15.

A total of 7,200 sites across the country were surveyed and the top ten most littered items were:

1. Smoking related litter (79%2. Confectionery packs (60%)
3. Soft drink bottles and cans (52%)
4. Fast-food related litter ((33%)
5. Alcoholic drinks bottles and cans
6. Packaging
7. Snack packs
8. Vehicle parts
9. Discarded food and drink

Litter blights our streets, parks and beaches and costs us millions of pounds to clear up every year but how do we persuade people to eliminate litter now and for future generations. This is about more than simply getting volunteers to pick up litter that people have thrown down. We need to change behaviour permanently by highlighting the problems daily and coming up with creative solutions.

This is about making huge changes made up of small, individual steps: recycling those plastic bottles rather than throwing them in a bin that goes to landfill and reducing food waste by only buying what you need. Waste is everyone’s problem and everyone has a role to play in the solution. The little things we can all do will, together, make a big difference.

Today’s young people are the key to eliminating litter and ending waste both now and for future generations and that is why Keep Britain Tidy runs the world’s biggest schools’ environmental education programme Eco-Schools. More than 2.3 million children and young people are currently actively engaged in the Eco Schools Programme. The aim is that every child has the opportunity to learn about the environment and the role they can play in improving it. If we are to make the huge collective strides to change behaviour and create a cleaner town for everyone, then investing in our future means inspiring the next generation today.

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs)

Fixed penalty notices are an essential part of an environmental enforcement strategy. Research by Keep Britain Tidy has shown that although FPN’s themselves are not a quick fix to improving the quality of local environments, they are powerful tools when they are underpinned by the education and engagement stages mentioned above.

It would seem that Central Government agrees as they move to encourage local authorities to make full use of FPNs to tackle environmental offences and develop new legislation that includes new powers for authorities to help maximise their use.

Although awareness of FPNs amongst the general public is relatively high, there is still a vital need for authorities to engage with local communities to ensure that this awareness translates into long lasting behaviour change. In fact, it is important for an authority to celebrate their FPN successes –for example through the local media – because we now know this a key driver among those residents who believe FPNs are an effective behaviour change tool.

That said, Keep Britain Tidy recommend that the best approach to improve the quality of the environment and prevent enviro-crime is to engage with communities, understand their values, educate them on the impact that their behaviour has on the environment, and use fixed penalty notices to reinforce positive environmental behaviour.

The Ramsgate Litter Forum

The Ramsgate Litter Forum, of which the Ramsgate Society is an active member, was set up in March 2018 to coordinate the efforts of local residents who are keen to help tackle this perineal problem. For information about the work of the Ramsgate Litter Forum and how to get involved please visit: Ramsgate Litter Forum - January 2020

In conclusion

Litter is a blight on our community and impacts adversely on our quality of life. Education is the most powerful way of changing this type of anti social behaviour and is most effective when started in school at an early age. When education is reinforced with Fixed Penalty Notices for those who habitually and irresponsibly drop litter the results can be transformational.

Look out for the Next Ramsgate Society Litter Pick on Sunday 11th April 2021

John Walker

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