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How is litter in the UK impacting our environment?

How is litter in the UK impacting our environment?

a public litter bin by a lake

Leave nothing but footprints. Be part of the solution, not the pollution. Don’t be a tosser. Keep it green, keep it clean. There have been so many anti-littering slogans and phrases, we’ve honestly lost count. Yet, the UK still has a littering problem. It’s one of the oldest environmental issues, it’s one of the most basic to resolve, and yet more than 2 million pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day. The cost to the taxpayers? Over £1 billion is spent on street cleaning.  



It’s evident that litter is a problem. We’ve got people cleaning up for us, bins in public spaces and there’s a symbol on every single piece of packaging asking us to bin it. Litter has been marketed as this ‘ugly’ thing that disrupts the beauty of our landscape, but it does far more than muddy the green British countryside.  

How litter in the UK is harming our food production 

That’s right, the food grown here in the UK, whether that’s plants or meats. Litter harms it. Pieces breaking down in the soil and sending toxins into the area means our food is growing with these chemicals inside. Plastic is breaking down into microplastics and animals are ingesting it – guess where that ends up? It’s true, there is so much plastic in the world that humans ingest 50,000 particles every year. 

Litter then ends up in our food production process and ultimately ends up back on our plates. Just not visible to the naked eye. It might not be litter that you drop that ends up in tiny pieces years later, it could be anyone. How to avoid it? Pick up any litter you find and take it home to dispose of it safely. 

How it’s harming our waterways 

Our waterways are thousands of miles of piping under and over the ground, transporting water to and from our homes. Water treatment facilities are ensuring that litter is filtered out as much as possible before it enters our home and before it is returned to the oceans. Of course, microplastics have made this process somewhat difficult. So, how does litter in the UK harm our waterways if the majority is removed?  

Have you ever seen a piece of rubbish fly down a water drain in the street? Maybe there has been a big storm and a small river is flowing through the town. All the debris goes into the drains, including wrappers that do not break down. Ultimately, it causes blockages. Blockages then add pressure to the system and… you guessed it. This leads to burst pipes. It may not directly affect you and your home yet, but a burst pipe means people will go without water until it is fixed. Worst case scenario? Litter in the UK causes so many burst pipes; water companies simply cannot catch up with all the repairs. All that disruption to your life because litter was dropped instead of taken home. 

How litter in the UK is harming lakes, rivers and oceans 

Natural sources of water are also harmed by litter. Yes, even lakes and rivers at the top of the UK’s highest mountain are impacted by litter. Thanks to mother nature, litter in the UK travels. The wind blows it into a river and the river drags it out to sea. Apart from harming wildlife, what else does this mean for us? 

It causes the flow of water to redirect creating a huge risk of flooding. Imagine a beaver building a dam in the wrong place and diverting the natural flow of water, it doesn’t seem so bad until you realise it’s heading towards a small town or village. In hundreds of areas, you’ll find a stream with a trolley or traffic cone in it. Even eco-friendly initiatives have caused flood risks like litter barriers. It’s why clearing up litter in the UK that surrounds water is so important, because it genuinely creates a risk to human life. 

See Also
wet footprint left on decking by a lake



Litter is a huge issue and creates far more problems than simply spoiling the picturesque view over your local fields. It doesn’t matter what slogan we throw at it, there’s only one way to resolve it. Pick it up, even if it is not yours. Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating picking up after other people, and no, we shouldn’t have to do it, but the more people we have picking, the fewer are dropping. If we demonstrate a good habit in a public space, there is a greater chance that someone will think twice about dropping, and you may even inspire someone else to pick up litter. With over 2 million pieces to collect every day, it’s a huge task. But we know our Greenredeem members are ready to make that ripple in the ocean that will send a tidal wave of litter picking across the nation. 

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