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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Are we becoming dirtier?
Public spaces across Britain are smelly, litter-strewn eyesores covered in dog faeces, gum and broken glass, according to a new study.

Amid the mess the government-funded environmental charity ENCAMS found playgrounds blighted by dog faeces and broken glass, overflowing rubbish bins, damaged pavements and street signs and lamps in desperate need of a lick of paint.

London was the worst offender, suffering from severe litter problems and blocked pavements.

The study also found that the problem of toilet odour was greatest in the West Midlands, South East and North East England.

Are we becoming dirtier as a nation? What can be done to clean up Britain? What areas do you think are suffering from severe neglect?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Yes we are getting dirtier and it not confined to the UK either. I recently drove through Interlaken, Switzerland, in a country where it was once reputed to be so clean one could eat off the pavement. We just don't see the tradition street sweepers any more and no one imposes a fine for wilfully dropping litter any more. Perhaps we should start showing notices aimed at those who spit in public also.
Hazel, UK

What do you expect when the habit is not even discouraged when the kids are growing up! Our local secondary school is a disgrace. Litter everywhere. The teachers turn a blind eye - instead of (just once) keeping the whole school back to clear up every scrap before leaving for home one evening. Under such a simple deterrent it would ensure that the kids monitored themselves in future.
Bill, UK

The general impression was of a third world country

Terry Mason, Australia
I am English but now living in Perth. I recently visited Britain and my overwhelming impression of the cities and larger towns was of dirt and squalor. Litter, weeds and grass growing out of the pavements, empty boarded up shops and badly maintained pavements. There were exceptions to this the beautiful villages and some of the towns, but the general impression was of a third world country.
Terry Mason, Australia

The UK from what I have seen is filthy! I was there in late August to early September and I have seen nothing like it. I was totally shocked at the amount of rubbish on the streets and sidewalks. I kept complaining to my British friends about the amount of trash and they seemed to think I was joking when I described the near spotless streets of Germany. Clean up your act guys!
Craig, American in Germany

Fly-tipping is a major problem and will get worse. We cannot continue to landfill everything, so we try to charge people (quite rightly) a truer cost of disposal. The trouble is, the cowboy element fly-tip rather than dispose of stuff properly. When you consider that the Environment Agency do little to prosecute, it is worth the risk. People need to take control, question the stores you buy sofas from - can it be broken down for reuse or recycling? Fast food stores, use paper and card containers. I would also make anyone caught daubing graffiti to clean it off with water and a toothbrush and publish a photo in the local paper.
Mark, UK

Many councils no longer employ cleaners to sweep streets outside the shopping areas, relying often on mechanical "road sweepers" which only reach the gutters where there aren't any cars. Litter on pavements just stays there and rots. If councils really can't afford to employ sweepers, why not try to encourage householders and shopkeepers to take responsibility for the stretch in front of their own premises? This happens in some countries.
Geoff Cosson, UK

I moved to Japan some years ago and what a difference when it comes to cleaning. My local park has no bins yet almost no litter or dog filth. The signs encourage people to take their own rubbish back with them and generally this works. Most dog owners carry bags containing plastic bags and scoops for picking up their dog's mess. Yet dog owners in the UK are generally oblivious to the mess they leave and as long as the law doesn't give a damn neither will they.
Donald, ex-pat in Japan

What annoys me most is drivers who throw rubbish and cigarette ash/ends out of the window as they drive along when all cars are fitted with an ashtrays or small bins.
Mike Harrison, Wakefield, England

Litter is not the fault of those dropping it

David Priddy, UK
The amount of litter is directly related to the 'nothing is my fault' culture in which we live. Everything is somebody else's fault. Litter is not the fault of those dropping it because somebody else should be cleaning it up ie the councils to whom we pay our council tax. Councils don't help themselves however. If councils offered a free refuse service then fly tipping would disappear overnight and help reduce the litter culture.
David Priddy, UK

The inner city areas most blighted are the same areas where much of the prison population originates. Surely more people should be receiving community sentences to clean up this mess, rather than languishing uselessly in jail.
Jon E, France (ex-pat UK)

We only have ourselves, and our anti-social habits, to blame

John G, London, UK
Britain has always been a filthy, grimy place to live - it's just the nature of the filth that's changed. One hundred years ago it was black smoke, soot and horse droppings. Today it's fast food wrappers, plastic bags and car exhaust fumes. We could learn a great lesson from our European neighbours who generally have cleaner streets, more recycling, better rubbish disposal, are less in thrall to fast food and are less likely to drop litter in the street. It's no wonder London has an explosion in the rat and pigeon population. We only have ourselves, and our anti-social habits, to blame.
John G, London, UK

Yes - we are becoming very lazy and dirty - however when are people like the rail companies and Tube going to re-instate litter bins. These were removed in the height of the Irish terror campaign but I suspect they are being kept away not for security reasons, but to save these companies money. Still there is no excuse for littering!
Bob, England

I live in Brick Lane and although the streets are full of rubbish at night I do have to say that the bin men are very regular in coming round and clearing up. As well as emptying bins they also collect bags on the street that have no bin space. Without such goodwill and people who do such a good job we would be over-run with rats, foxes and mice. You can say we need more litter bins but I live in an area that has recently just been re-built from a nail bombing. People are doing their best. So maybe congratulations are in order.
Mel, London

While I was living last year in the Irish Republic, a place that also suffers its fair share of litterbugs, the local shops and supermarkets started to charge a small fee for plastic shopping bags. Doing this has made a big difference to people's awareness as well as the local area which is not near as bad as it used to be.
John, UK

Littering should be subject to on-the-spot fines and zero tolerance - as it is in Florida, USA. The place was immaculate because even those slovenly Brits who normally don't think twice before depositing their rubbish at their feet became aware that this behaviour was unacceptable and sooner or later they would be getting a tap on the shoulder!
Ian Marlow, UK

We need to penalize the problem at the source

Paddy, UK
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people throw their fast-food containers onto the pavement, even when standing right next to empty bins. We need to penalize the problem at the source - the fast-food outlets. If all outlets were required by law to have identification marks on their packaging, a system could be set up where the local councils could identify the worst outlets and then fine them, or tax them for the cost of cleaning up the litter they generate. How about a deposit surcharge on the containers - say 50p that would be refunded on the return of the used packaging? I'm sure plenty of containers would be picked up by enterprising individuals if the "take-awayers" could not be bothered.
Paddy, UK

Sadly London has become as dirty as many US cities. I see lazy people dropping litter everywhere but in a bin. It is true there aren't enough bins around, but having generated the litter, people should take it home then. My street in Tower Hamlets had all new bins put in; bizarrely, they were all stolen within days. That kind of antisocial behaviour doesn't help either. It would be nice if local councils stopped spending money on political correctness and went back to providing useful services to the public.
Arri London, EU/US

It does indeed seem as though Britain is becoming a dirtier place. However, this also seems to have come about since county councils started cutting back on public service jobs such as manual street cleaners, public convenience attendants, park attendants etc. Many other European countries are way ahead of us when it comes to public cleanliness and this is largely due to their acknowledgment of the essential nature of such jobs. Sadly, Britain has consigned most of this essential workforce to the realms of unemployment and benefits.
K, Wales

There are a lot of thoughtless people out there; but no, it's not getting worse. I remember 25 years ago as a child there seemed to be far more old mattresses and sofas being dumped all over the place. I think people are becoming more interested in keeping their neighbourhoods clean. This is a typical case of the English moaning for the sake of it - why don't you highlight the brilliant work being done cleaning up the UK's rivers?
Mark, UK

What happened to those signs that used to say "Keep Britain tidy" threatening to impose a fine for 'litter bugs'? How about imposing street clean-ups as community service sentences?
Jill, UK

Irresponsible dog owners are a national disgrace

Peter Alsop, UK
It's not a political concern at Westminster to deal with this growing problem and it never will be. Local councils are more interested in making money out of rate payers and cutting back with spending on things such as council waste tips, refuse services and public toilets. It's a disgrace! Irresponsible dog owners who let their dogs foul in public places are also a national disgrace. The law doesn't punish these people hard enough! Don't they realise that potentially serious diseases can spread in this way along with the rat population. We'll be facing some sort of health epidemic in future in we carry on this way.
Peter Alsop, UK

Yes it is becoming dirtier, mainly down to the public's attitude of "if it's not inside or near my house I don't care". Certainly in the area I live, people are just ignorant and lazy - fly tipping just metres away from a tip. Individuals leaving their empty beer cans in front of my garden rather than their own. There should be a law against people being so lazy and ignorant. It's not the country - it's the majority of people in it.

Yes, but the reasons are obvious - when it comes to keeping streets clean we need more litter bins. On several occasions I've failed to find a single bin in local town centres - the few which exist are usually overflowing. The other reason, for all of the dumped furniture etc, is the charges by local tips or the limited opening hours. It's the same for cars. The solution - stop charging people for removing waste - it costs more to retrieve an abandoned sofa than allowing the owner to leave it at the local tip free of charge.
Carol, UK

To Carol, UK - the excuse that there aren't enough litter bins is feeble. If there isn't a bin - either find one or wait until you get home! I once saw a man on Oxford Street sitting on a bin, eating fish and chips. He finished, and just dropped the remains on the path. It's pointless to talk about fines - we'd have to employ thousands of people to apply them. It's down to schools and especially parents to educate the young not to drop litter and to take responsibility for our environment.
Chris, UK

To Chris. Yes I agree it is up to parents to educate the young, but I'm afraid we have to educate the parents first!
Paul, UK

In response to Chris, UK. I am one of those who do take my litter home with me, but the lack of bins on my route home means that I am in a minority, if you make it easer for people to drop litter then put it in a bin then people will just drop it.
Mark E, England

My home state, Oregon, was the first in the US to enact a beverage container deposit law. The retailers, the wholesalers, and even the consumers complained. Believe me, we were bombarded with every excuse in the book why it wouldn't work - but it has worked! Roadside and pavement litter is now only a small fraction of what it was. I love the UK and have holidayed there 20 times so far, but the litter is really out of hand. Having to remove bins from stations and platforms hasn't helped, either.
Dennis, USA

Most people spout on about environmental pollution, but blithely drop all sorts of rubbish without a moment's thought

Laura, UK
Yes, many of my so-called "fellow humans" are getting dirtier. Most of them spout on about dog mess and environmental pollution, but blithely drop cigarette ends, chewing gum, plastic bags and all sorts of other rubbish without a moment's thought. Local councils should stop cleaning up after these morons. When their homes are invaded by rats and they have to wade through knee-high muck to get to work, perhaps they might start thinking about the consequences of their actions.
Laura, UK

The amount of take away food and packaging urgently needs to be tackled. Why does everything have to be packaged up so much these days? Cut the plastic, the elaborate containers and welcome back simple and easy-to-decompose paper.
Jeff, UK

The UK is filthy as a rule. I was walking the dog the other day, and on a path which was miles from any road, I found loads of old chocolate wrappers (one of them thoughtfully stuffed in the neck of an old Coke bottle) slung in the hedgerows. Stupid, lazy and arrogant people seem to assume that they can chuck whatever they want to away and someone else will clean it up for them.
Pete Hazell, UK

People tend to be dirty and lazy in their habits, preferring to throw rubbish away instantly to keeping it until they reach a bin. We need on-the-spot fines for littering, and more litter bins more frequently emptied. Fast food outlets should be taxed heavily to cover the costs of their customers' filth and ill-health, and throwing litter from a car should be made a traffic offence. London is disgusting but that is partly the legacy of terrorism. However, that excuse doesn't really hold water anymore. Clean it up Ken!
Tom, UK

See also:

21 Sep 02 | UK
30 Nov 01 | England
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