A recent survey has revealed that 94% of people would not challenge a litter bug if they saw a culprit with their own eyes. That is despite an increasing appreciation amongst the public of the need to recycle and reduce waste.
But news stories of people being assaulted or even killed after they’ve faced up to litter louts have made many Britons think twice about doing the same themselves.
This fear of “street rage” doesn’t stop a significant number from dropping litter themselves if there isn’t a rubbish bin nearby, BusinessWaste.co.uk has learned.
“People’s attitude to litter is the stereotype of the British character in a nutshell,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesman Mark Hall. “We put up with a lot of inconvenience and rude behaviour, but we are generally too polite or too nervous to speak out.”
A poll of over 3,000 people conducted for the company found that 94% would not confront someone they saw dropping litter. Only 3% said they would confront a litter lout, depending on the circumstance. 3% were unsure of their response.
“Definitely not if they looked like a yob,” one person told us, while another said, “It would probably be OK but manners have disappeared.”
The 94% were overwhelming in their reasoning: “I don’t want to get beaten up” and “Not my problem” were the two most popular answers. These answers have a minor grounding in reality, with small numbers reporting abuse or worse in return. In fact, 12% said they had received rude comments as a result of challenging someone littering. One person said they had confronted somebody and have been physically attacked
“I once shouted at somebody who threw a whole bag of fast food waste out of the car window at traffic lights,” BusinessWaste.co.uk was told. “All I got was a stream of abuse in return. That’s our country all over, isn’t it?”
In fact, assaults and serious incidents leading to death are relatively rare, but cause nervousness among the general public because they get wide publicity.
The third most popular reason for not calling out litter louts came as a surprise: “I don’t want to be one of those people who moans all the time”, and “I don’t want to be seen as a ‘do-gooder'”.
“That’s a depressing sign of the times,” says Mark Hall. “We’re living in a world where doing the right thing is frowned upon because it gets you the reputation for being a moaning Victor Meldrew character.”
However, it’s not entirely about people’s reluctance to be seen as do-gooders, with the poll finding one unexpected outcome when it comes from canine littering. 6% said they’d make a comment about somebody letting their dog foul the pavement or a park without picking it up. This rises to 18% if the witness is a fellow dog owner.
“We thought people would be more nervous of calling out a dog owner, but it’s actually the opposite,” said Hall. “There’s a greater moral obligation to clean up dog mess,” so it probably makes people that little bit braver knowing they have right on their side.”
Despite saying they disliked litter, asked if they would drop litter in the street if there wasn’t a bin nearby and there weren’t any witnesses, the answers were just a little bit depressing. 31% said they would. 69% said they’d find a bin or take their rubbish home
But one respondent had a word of warning: “I thought I didn’t have any witnesses, dropped a burger box, and the CCTV got me. There was a council bloke waiting for me at the next corner with a £60 fine. Bang to rights.”
BusinessWaste.co.uk’s Mark Hall says that street litter – which costs councils tens of millions of pounds every year – wouldn’t be a problem if people’s attitude to dropping litter changed.
“Friends don’t let friends drop litter in the street,” he says. “But it’s the fear of unpredictable strangers that puts people off speaking out more often.”