Croydon’s litter crisis should make us all angry

By - Thursday 21st April, 2016

Twitter@cleanstreetstu, aka Croydon cabinet member Stuart Collins, calls on all citizens to stand up to the litter louts

Photo author’s own.

Across the United Kingdom, local councils spend over a billion pounds every year clearing litter. If people took more pride in their communities and responsibility for their own personal behaviour, that money could be spent improving people’s lives. Official government monitoring shows that the problem is endemic and widespread, but doesn’t provide a clear picture of why it’s happening.

As a council cabinet member dealing with littering and fly tipping, I talk to many other cabinet members across London and it is clear that there is a need for a nationwide co-ordinated approach, bringing together central and local government, community organisations, environmental campaign groups, residents and the packaging industry to provide a consistent approach.

Let’s create a social stigma against littering as we did with drinking and driving

People drop different types of litter for different reasons and there is no single approach or simplistic answer to solving the issue. But trialling new ideas, working with local residents and sharing successful outcomes can help. As a nation we need an angry army of citizens, challenging and talking to others to create a social stigma against littering and fly tipping, just as we did with drinking and driving.

Photo author’s own.

Bearing in mind the UK background of continuing significant cuts to local authority budgets which have forced changes in refuse and recycling collections and in street cleaning frequencies along with the introduction of charges for previously free services, we certainly face a massive challenge here in Croydon.

So Croydon Council launched a high profile campaign to start a continuous long-term battle against those who fly tip or litter. It’s called Don’t Mess with Croydon, Take Pride. The campaign was based around a three Es approach: Education, Enforcement, Easy (meaning ‘making services as easy to use as possible’). Don’t Mess with Croydon has done a lot, but there remains a lot more to do.

Educating means informing residents and traders about the correct way to dispose of waste and how to take pride by not littering or fly tipping. So far we have visited over 2,000 homes and businesses with our anti litter pledges. Many of these signed up to the pledges and display signs on their doors or windows; this approach is continuing in our hot spot areas. We have recruited over 275 street champions who have set the right examples in the roads where they live and this has led to fifty-seven community cleans-ups, making a real difference in troublesome hotspots.

Council staff, councillors and our contractors have worked with local communities to assist in these clean-ups, a great example being the Thornton Heath Community Action Team, where we have spoken to traders and residents made the high street cleaner, provided dual landfill recycling bins and really made a difference. No one is saying that the problem is solved there but everyone is committed to continuing the improvements and won’t give up because they care.

Photo author’s own.

Through its contractor, the council regularly puts out information regarding recycling with the collection schedules, all using pictures. All services are available online, including the bulky waste collection service. We also run Don’t Mess with Croydon, Take Pride stalls at festivals and community street events, giving out literature and promoting positive action. We have visited several schools and from September 2016 we will run a new education program through schools including competitions to encourage anti-litter ideals and recycling.

Enforcement is vital as a deterrent so the council immediately ensured that our enforcement officers (NSOs) were increased from nineteen in post to the full complement of twenty-nine, then to forty, at a time when council staffing budgets are under pressure from austerity cuts. As cabinet member for clean, green Croydon I met the NSOs with my deputy and pledged that we would both go out on regular visits with them in fly tip hotspots. Their response has been outstanding. Working with our legal team, these officers have taken prosecutions for fly tipping and littering from single figures in over eight years to ninety-six in just eighteen months. They have massively increased the number of fines for fly tipping, littering, adding offences such as spitting and urinating on our streets.

National legislation on littering is twenty-five years old and I think it’s too lenient

NSOs have also visited over a thousand traders, performing duty of care visits to check trade waste licences and recently to discuss trialling time-banded waste collections on our high streets. This means trying out an approach in which traders and residents above shops are restricted from putting out waste or recycling between 9:00am and 6:00pm. So far indications from Thornton Heath are positive, so we will roll out these time-banded collections in our hotspot high streets like West Croydon or Portland Road.

I believe that a clean high street changes mindsets. The national legislation that we abide by is over twenty-five years old and, in my opinion, too lenient. So we have taken the initiative to encourage the courts to allow us to seize and crush vehicles involved in fly tipping. We have agreed in talks with the probation service that if offenders are given community service, time should be spent either clearing fly tips or helping with our community clean-ups. That way, a lesson is learned: offenders see the problems that they cause and find out about the effort and time that these take to rectify.

Easier services for users are very important, such as our litter reporting app, the  and the hotline (020 8604 7000). These have helped residents to report problems quickly. My deputy and I are spending time working with the fly tip crews and we have seen fly tips picked up at a faster rate, rising from the poor 3% in forty-eight hours to an improved average of around 76% in forty-eight hours.

A lot has been done and there’s a lot still to do

We have added over 150 new dual recycling/land fill bins to assist residents in flats above shops, and through talks underway with our partners in the South London Waste Partnership with the boroughs of Kingston, Merton and Sutton, improvements in our refuse/recycling services are expected. Later in the year, once preferred bidders are chosen, I will be in a position to expand further on these expected improvements.

So all in all, a lot has been done. For the first time, Croydon Council produces a monthly dashboard of results and outcomes for public scrutiny on our web site. As cabinet member for clean, green Croydon I will continue to engage with residents, to look for ideas and to challenge those not taking responsibility.

Yes, there is a lot still to do on this UK-wide challenge against littering and fly tipping. However, by continuing to work together, we can and we will play our part in cleaning up Croydon.

Stuart Collins

Stuart Collins

Councillor Stuart Collins is Labour member of Croydon Council for Broad Green ward, deputy leader and cabinet member for Clean, Green Croydon. He likes cats, Chelsea FC and rockabilly music and plays tennis at Norbury Tennis club.

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  • Mrs_P

    This makes me seethe. Rather than castigate Croydon residents for lacking ‘pride’, how about putting the responsibility back where it belongs – at the Council’s door?? Or perhaps with greedy landlords who fail to provide their tenants with adequate facilities for rubbish disposal? For five years I’ve been ‘taking pride’ in Croydon, desperately trying to get the council to deal with the issue of domestic rubbish disposal in our road, where a mildly complex combination of steep steps, multiple occupancy housing and general laziness have led to bins and bags constantly being left out on the pavements and their contents strewn all over our street. You’d think this would be a straightforward matter of the Council insisting that landlords provide adequate bin stores for their tenants before they are allowed to make money from rent, or perhaps provide smaller bins to those with steep stairs, or even use those much-quoted ‘enforcement’ measures to punish those who consistently leave open recycling containers full of rubbish to blow around in the wind. But you’d be wrong. There is not the space available here to go into the details of how appallingly this issue has been mismanaged by Croydon Council, except to say that after five years of pleading, begging and finally shouting, our road still looks like a tip and I’m simply worn out from the experience. I’ve been told time and again by NSOs that ‘enforcement’ is simply not possible given their limited resources – and if we think this is bad now, just wait until the latest £29m worth of cuts really kick in. So save me the slick soundbites and expensively promoted campaigns – just clean my road.

  • Robert Ward

    Yes, we should all be mad about this unnecessary blight.

    Passing over the usual blame-the-cuts excuse, Councillor Collins and his team have had some good ideas and have made good efforts to address the problem. IMO the weakest aspect has been the enforcement.

    As I pointed out at the start of the “Don’t mess with Croydon” campaign, there is a danger if you get really good at picking up flytips then the flytippers and others begin to see it as a service. Your weapon here is punishment.

    The fines do not have to be draconian, although for the worst, industrial scale offenders that has to be the option. What is important is that there has to be a high chance of being caught and the fine has to be applied soon after the offence.

    Fixed Penalty Notices are running at about 100 a month with a target of 50. With 40 Environmental Health Officers that is not a high rate. One also sees in the prosecutions that several fines are applied on the same day at the same location picking up spitters and cigarette end droppers. This may be easy pickings for an EH officer working 9-5 to get the numbers up but isn’t a deterrent for the most unsightly offences that really matter.