June 12, 2024

Litter is blighting the UK’s footpaths, with an average 41 pieces found a kilometre, according to a major study. Particularly frequently found brands included Lucozade, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Monster and Walkers.

The State of Our Trails report, conducted by Trash Free Trails, is the first UK study that aims to establish a scientific understanding of the environmental consequences of the tonnes of litter in our landscapes. It drew together more than 1,600 submissions by 4,500 volunteers and with the data the authors have estimated as many as 9.1m individual pieces of litter could be found across the UK’s 220,000km of public rights of way. The surveys took place between July 2020 and August 2023.

Lucozade was the most frequently found brand of litter, according to the report. The authors said they thought this might be “because of its identity as a ‘sports energy drink’. Many recreational trail users will view their activity as a ‘sport’, requiring challenge and exertion, and therefore additional energy. This may be particularly prevalent among those who are relatively new and/or novice trail users, and/or beginners in the activities that they are participating in.”

After Lucozade, the most commonly found brands were Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Monster, Cadbury and Walkers.

A total of 26,106 of the 216,466 items of single-use plastics found in the report were drinks containers that would be eligible for inclusion in a deposit returns scheme, in which people are given a small sum for placing recyclable drinks containers in a special bin.

Campaigners say there is no excuse for the government not to put in place a deposit returns scheme across the UK. There is one planned for England and Scotland by 2025, but there have been years of delays for both. The English scheme was first announced by Michael Gove in 2018. The scheme currently will not include glass containers.

The report authors say the word “pollution” should be used rather than “litter” because “there is clear and growing evidence that this human-made detritus is harmful to the health of the ecosystems that it escapes into. This is the definition of pollution, and we should not avoid it any longer.”

They add that people litter partly because they feel disconnected from the landscape, so “we believe that outdoor education can no longer be an optional frill alongside the mainstream curriculum. The time has come for students, pupils and educators to be in, with, and for nature as part of their journey through the system.”

Trash Free Trails’ communications manager, Rachel Coleman, said: “We believe the negative impact litter is having on our ecosystems is one thing to get motivated by, but knowing the impact it has on ourselves and our enjoyment of the outdoors –that’s something policymakers and single-use product manufacturers can’t ignore.

“This isn’t just about reducing litter any more. This is about a complete transformation of our relationships to these environments which are central to our sense of identity and community. If we don’t work to better protect them, who will?”

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