Litterbugs costing public £40m

Rathlin Island clean-up
Volunteers help tackle the damage caused by litterbugs (a group on Rathlin Island)


A NEW report by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is exposing the high cost of cleaning up after litterbugs.

The north’s bill for street cleaning alone – litter picking and sweeping – during 2014/15 topped £40 million. That’s enough to pay the wages of 1,863 new nurses – just think about all the people that could benefit from their contribution to the health services!

Grim litterbug findings

The grim findings, based on 2,140 sites, and Department of the Environment figures, prove that every time someone drops a cigarette packet, dumps a bag of rubbish on a roadside, or lets their dog use the pavement as a toilet, they are taking money from somebody else’s pocket. That’s not being preachy, it’s a fact.

It’s estimated that the cost of cleaning up the detritus left by others sees every man, woman and child paying “an average of £21.87 per year through their rates for this service”.

“There is just a one in twenty chance that any given 50 metre stretch of street or green space in Northern Ireland will be completely free of litter,” the report says.

Dog Fouling

Among the worst offenders are pet owners, with a third of all sites surveyed failing to meet the standards for litter because of high levels of dog fouling.

KNIB poster
A warning to owners to clean up after their pets

“As well as being generally unpleasant, parasites and bacteria which may be present in dog fouling are potentially hazardous to the health of humans and dogs,” the report’s authors say.

Human nature is often predictable and those reporting on the problem found that some areas appeared to be habitually used by dog owners who didn’t bother to clean up after their pets, ie mess leads to more mess.

“The highest number [of incidents] recorded was 18 separate deposits on one industrial and retail shed area. This supports the idea that a failure to clean up dog fouling is influenced by ‘signalling’: the presence of dog fouling indicates to other owners that fouling is accepted in that area, and they do not need to clear up after their pet.”

High Social Cost of Littering

Past research has found that areas with high levels of litter are most likely to be affected by crime while the problem can also negatively impact house prices, tourism and even mental health.

“Studies have shown that high levels of litter correlate with increased rates of depression and other mental health problems.  The result is an estimated £15 million drained from already stretched NHS finances,” says Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful boss Dr Ian Humphreys.

However, the new report also points to the positive work being done by the Live Here Love Here campaign, which with the support of local authorities, works to instil a sense of pride among communities by encouraging them to become involved in improving their area, very much along the same lines as the Tidy Towns campaign on the other side of the border.

And of course the Eco-Schools programme has proven to be a wonderful way of teaching children to appreciate their local environment and the importance of keeping it litter-free. Something they will, hopefully, carry through for the rest of their lives.

Cleanup call

Meanwhile, the new report is calling for a multi-agency response to Northern Ireland’s litter problems, with those involved to include local authorities, the River Agency, the Roads Service and other relevant bodies.

“Councils are not the only organisations with litter cleansing responsibilities, but they are the only ones working hard to fulfil them. In April every year we hold a Big Spring Clean, with around 90,000 volunteers taking part in 2015. A large number of those people are cleaning up roadside verges, open spaces and the banks of streams because it isn’t being done by the organisations responsible for them,” says Dr Humphreys.

To read the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful report visit



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