The Local Environmental Quality Survey of England (LEQSE) is carried out annually by Keep Britain Tidy on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The main aim of the survey is to provide information on the overall cleanliness of the country. This can be used to inform strategy and is therefore crucial to ensure government, local authorities, land managers, businesses, Keep Britain Tidy and others have the information they need in order to improve local environmental quality.
Over the past 14 years, the Local Environmental Quality Survey of England (LEQSE) has measured the cleanliness of the country, looking at indicators such as littering, graffiti and fly-posting. And, despite all the commentaries suggesting that litter is getting worse, this report shows that litter levels have improved since 2001. In fact, 90% of the 7,200 sites monitored for this report were at or above an acceptable standard for litter.
Average grade for each headline indicator over time
The past decade has seen a significant increase in the number of fast food establishments. This has been accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of fast food-related litter. Since 2004, fast food-related litter has moved up three places in the ‘top ten’ of litter types to fourth place.
Percentage of sites affected by fast food-related litter over time
Detritus consists of mud, soil, grit, dust, gravel, small stones and old leaf or blossom fall that has broken down and fragmented, so it is no longer recognisable as such. Plastic and glass can also form detritus when they break down to very fine particles. If not swept away regularly, detritus can encourage weeds to grow, damaging road and paving surfaces, trapping litter and leading to a rapid deterioration of the environmental standards of an area.
In 2014/15, detritus was the largest single reason for sites being classed as unacceptable in eight of the survey’s ten land use classifications. The land uses where detritus was most likely to be found at unacceptable levels, by some margin, were rural roads, industry and warehousing and other highways.
Average and predicted grade for detritus, weed growth, recent leaf and blossom fall and staining over time
80% of sites surveyed in 2014/15 had some form of food and drink-related litter. The type of food and drink-related litter included snack packs, fast food-related litter, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks-related, confectionery packaging and discarded food and drink.
Non-alcoholic drinks was the third largest category of litter type found on sites in 2014/15.
Percentage of sites affected by the top 20 litter items in 2014/15
Since last year there has been a decrease in the proportion of A grades achieved in relation to graffiti, which saw a drop of three percentage points. However, the average standard of grade A is maintained for graffiti.
By overlaying data about crime risk with LEQSE survey data, we can see that on streets where litter, graffiti and fly-posting exist it appears that crime is far more likely than in places where they are not present, adding more weight to the ‘broken windows’ theory first developed in New York policing: this is a criminology theory of the norm-setting and signalling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behaviour. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may deter further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.
Average grade for graffiti and fly-posting by region in 2014/15
Dog fouling is consistently identified by the public as the most offensive litter item. It’s therefore pleasing to see that the 2014/15 survey shows a further decrease in the proportion of sites with dog faeces present. The average proportion of sites with dog faeces present has been under 10% since 2003 and is now at its lowest level (7%) since the survey began.
‘Bagged’ dog faeces is also considered a particular issue by the public and its instance has been specifically recorded as part of the survey since 2010. Although there has been a slight increase in the number of instances of bagged dog faeces since 2010, the national levels of bagged dog faeces are still very low, with fewer than 2% of sites recording any instances in 2014/15. This means that only 9% of sites were affected by dog fouling in any form.
Percentage of sites affected by dog fouling, by land use, in 2014/15
Confectionery litter is the second most commonly found litter type behind smoking-related litter. It is found on 61.4% of all sites surveyed.
Another way of looking at litter is to consider the activity that the consumer was engaged in, which then left them with waste to dispose of, for example, whether it is the result of smoking or consuming fast food. Confectionery packs, non-alcoholic drinks material, fast food-related litter, snack packs and discarded food and drink are all litter types associated with the consumption of food-on-the-go.
Percentage of sites with food-on-the-go litter over time.
This year four types of litter have seen an increase – fast-food related, snack packs (e.g. crisp packets, biscuit wrappers), discarded food and drink and supermarket or retail carrier bags. 80% of sites surveyed had some ‘food-on-the-go’-related litter present.
If we are to reduce the amount of litter dropped in our country and, ultimately, reduce the bill we all pay to clean it up, we must change the behaviour of the one in five people who regularly drop litter.
The fact that overall litter standards in this country reach a level that is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ is not the whole story.
Keep Britain Tidy is working tirelessly to deliver better quality public spaces in this country, but we cannot do it alone. Government, businesses, local authorities, communities and individuals all have a part to play and it is only by working together that we will achieve the changes and improvements that everyone wants to see.
Top ten litter types present over time
The LEQSE report reveals that those who live in the most deprived places in the country, also live in the places where there is the most litter, graffiti and dog fouling.
In fact, while only two per cent of sites in the most affluent areas are at an unacceptable standard for litter, in the most deprived areas this rises to 25%.
The greater prevalence of high-obstruction housing in areas with higher indicators of deprivation, could in some cases make them more difficult to cleanse. However, the reasons why such a difference occurs are likely to be complex and further research is needed to better understand this relationship.