Searching for an answer to Croydon’s rubbish problem

By - Friday 19th May, 2017

How can local residents hold back the rising tide of litter?

Photo public domain.

The Croydon Communities Consortium should be congratulated on holding a meeting that attempted to face up to one of Croydon’s seemingly perennial problems – rubbish. A number of Croydon’s residents’ associations were represented and, in all, around thirty people turned up to ask questions and make suggestions. Due to the election, no council officers were present, but the chairwoman assured us that their considered answers to all of our queries would be placed on the Croydon Consortium’s website in due course. It will be interesting to see their reactions to some of the residents’ suggestions.

As the Croydon Consortium is partly funded by Croydon Council, one would hope it might have at least some influence. No-one would pretend that tackling the rubbish problem is easy – but that is precisely why the council should be open to new and innovative ideas. Often it can feel as if the council’s attitude is that the problem is so complex and difficult, and that it is so short of resources, that this really is just an intractable problem that the residents will have to learn to live with. It should, though, be applauded for its Clean & Green Street Champion programme, which encourages local residents to take more pride in and help to clean up their own streets and local areas. It should also be given credit for being more efficient in clearing up the mess that the fly-tippers create, and in achieving a few more prosecutions. However, as yet this seems to have had no deterrent effect on the amount of fly-tipping taking place. It will sadly be a slow process – but unless we can change the culture in which a considerable minority think that it’s okay to litter, and believe that they can get away with it, the heavily litter-strewn streets of Croydon will be with us for many years to come.

Could the council have any influence in the courts when it comes to sentencing fly-tippers?

One of the long-term ways of changing the current culture is perhaps to try to instil more respect for our local environment and place from an early age. The first questioner had previously been informed by Councillor Stuart Collins, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Clean & Green Croydon, that there was a plan to roll out an environmental education programme in Croydon’s schools, and he was keen to know what progress had been made on this matter. He also wondered whether the council could have any influence in the courts that sentence fly-tipping and littering offenders, to pass sentences that both included fines and community service orders, in which those convicted would be forced to clear up other people’s litter.

Another resident wanted to know why there couldn’t be a more integrated approach to the collection of trade waste, whereby one company, such as perhaps Veolia UK, could do all of the collections, instead of the current situation in which a variety of different contractors seem to be used. It was also pointed out that it is often takeaway outlets that seem less able to handle the amount of food waste that they have, and it would be interesting to know what steps the council has taken to try to get to grips with this problem. Every shop has a statutory obligation to provide a written programme of how they will responsibly manage their waste, and one wonders what extent this is checked up on. Obviously food waste on the streets is only going to encourage rats and so, if we wish to keep vermin at least at a reasonable distance from our habitations, this is a problem in urgent need of attention.

Another major cause of excess litter in residential areas seems to be the lack of awareness of some residents in how to correctly dispose of their household waste. A suggestion was made that landlords should be made more aware that they have a responsibility to inform their tenants how to responsibly manage their waste. This is perhaps also an area in which local residents can get involved in helping their neighbours to understand how to recycle and manage their household rubbish properly.

There are costs associated with using CCTV cameras at fly-tipping hotspots

The most innovative and interesting suggestion of the evening, and the one that perhaps offers the potential to catch and prosecute more fly-tippers, was one that was inspired by a current trend in wildlife documentaries. The council often points out the costs associated with using CCTV cameras at fly-tipping hotspots. However, hidden webcams of the type used to capture footage of animals at night would, it was claimed, be a much cheaper option. It may even be possible to attach them to the new tall lampposts that are currently being installed.

As the evening drew to a close, it was encouraging to hear from residents who had taken action to help clear up their local areas. One lady had put up numerous signs to tell people that one particular area was private property and not a rubbish dump, and had been successful in dissuading people from continuing to drop their litter. Another Clean & Green Street Champion told of how organising a community litter pick in his area had not only made the place more attractive, but also brought the community together. It was readily agreed that local organisations that get involved in making their areas more attractive by planting up certain areas could have a beneficial effect in encouraging more people to take pride in their locales, and in decreasing the amount of littering. Indeed, it seems to me that only by local people and the council working together can we begin to get to grips with a problem that has infected our national culture for far too many years.

I left the meeting glad that the Croydon Communities Consortium was at least attempting to find solutions to Croydon’s litter problem and encouraged that so many different people were determined to do their bit to improve the situation. I was also pleased to discover after the meeting that it only costs £5 to become a member, so if like me you’d like to be more involved and more informed about community issues, you can join up here – and if you really want to get to grips with tackling your local litter problem, you can become a Green Champion.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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  • Ian Marvin

    Businesses are able to choose their waste services provider fundamentally as a result of us having voted in governments who feel that competition in everything and deregulation is a good thing. So, again the local authority is stuck with enforcing things they have little control of. The street team in Thornton Heath have been proactive on this but it requires constant vigilance, if the waste agreement was integrated with business rates then these resources could be applied elsewhere.

    • Charles Barber

      An integrated management of the waste resource is definitely something worth striving for. In the meantime, I’d be interested to know what powers the council or police have to fine businesses that fail to keep their waste under proper control.

  • Peter Ball

    I’m fairly sure that at least some of the pollution problems in the River Wandle (reported in my recent Citizen article) are caused by the liquid equivalent of fly-tipping. I note the comments above about take-away outlets dealing with their waste. It’s seems very likely that the cooking oil waste appearing, more or less daily, in the river at Wandle Park comes from take-away outlets or restaurants.

    • Charles Barber

      I’m sure you’re right Peter. I reckon there may be scope for the Citizen to do a bit of investigative journalism (but I draw the line at going undercover as an employee at a fast food outlet).

  • Malcolm Bell

    Excellent article on the meeting. I would recommend that anybody who cares about littering in their area does sign up as a Street Champion.


    Seems to me that education, as so often, is the key to success. Children are taught about recycling and waste and conserving things like energy/water etc in most junior school as it’s part of the curriculum. The next step is transferring this knowledge to family or outdoor situations – they know what to do in school but do they put their litter in a bin when out shopping or elsewhere? The volume of non-recyclable litter is very worrying, although with plastic bottles and similar now readily recyclable, hopefully less will be left in rivers or on streets or hedges ……..

    • Charles Barber

      I completely agree that education is vital. If we can teach children to respect and care about their environment, then we can start to change the culture. Indeed some children might even be able to educate their wayward parents. Involving school in community litter picks would seem like a very practical way of re-enforcing the message.

  • Steve Lawlor

    I was very sad to once see an adult with a child, a child was opening his ice cream and the child actually wanted to put his ice cream wrapper in a bin, but the adult mum insisted that he drop it on the floor. Which he was then forced to do by him mum. Perhaps it is the adults need the training. Could this be an alternative/addition to adults who get fined (once in a blue moon they get caught) for dropping litter.