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We must take a collaborative, targeted and localised approach to tackle rural littering

Michelle Norman, Director of Sustainability | Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

4 min read Partner content

Lucozade Ribena Suntory's Michelle Norman writes ahead of the launch of the ‘Love Your Forest Impact Report’ which will take place today in parliament from 4-6pm in the Thames Pavilion Room.

Litter is a major problem in the UK. Not only is it a blight on our landscape which can cause environmental damage and harm, but it is very unlikely to ever make it back into our waste systems to be recycled.

To help deliver the circular plastics economy we all want, it is not only vital to increase recycling rates, but to also reduce the amount of littering in the UK.

Littering is a particular problem in rural areas where it can remain unseen for decades. In 2016, during initial research in the Forest of Dean – one of the UK’s few surviving ancient woodlands and where our factory is located – we discovered litter that was over 35 years old. This is despite the fact that over 250 tonnes of litter is collected and removed from the Forest of Dean every single year.

As a responsible company focussed on improving our environment, we joined forces with environmental campaign charity Hubbub in 2016 to try and raise awareness of the issue of rural littering and reduce it in the Forest. Working in collaboration with the local Council, Forestry Commission and volunteer groups, we launched an extensive three-year campaign which sought to trial different approaches and behaviour change techniques.

The campaign, which was cited in the Government’s Litter Strategy for England 2017 as an example of effective nudge tactics, has identified a number of learnings that could benefit other campaigns and could help the Government deliver on its ambitions in the soon to be announced Resource and Waste Strategy. These include:

Rewarding consumers can help trigger positive conversations

The ‘Trashconverter’ invited people to swap their trash for treats. Over the summers of 2017 and 2018, it visited 64 locations, engaged with over 5,323 people and collected over 186 bags of litter and recycling from community events across the Forest of Dean. The Trashconverter kick-started conversations and allowed us to reach those who are notoriously difficult to speak to about sustainability issues, including secondary school students.

Watchful eyes can reduce littering

Research suggests people are more likely to act in a socially responsible way if they feel they are being watched. ‘Communitrees’ – weird and wonderful tree faces designed by school children using litter from the forest floor – were deployed in litter hotspots throughout the forest. In higher footfall areas, they reduced littering by as much as 30%.

Motorists can be encouraged to take their litter home through community building approaches

We sought to build a sense of pride amongst motorists. This included a roadside gallery, a series of outdoor posters installed on A and B roads with members of the local community holding up messages of pride for their area with anti-littering slogans. Combined with a car sticker competition, roadside littering levels dropped from 6 bags per km to 2.7 bags per km.

We will be publishing the full results of our Love Your Forest campaign later today in the House of Commons. It is our intention that the ‘Love Your Forest Impact Report’ will provide other companies, councils, organisations and volunteer groups with the inspiration and insights needed to undertake similar localised and targeted campaigns going forward.

The Government is right to seek to improve our waste and recycling infrastructure and introduce a national anti-littering campaign. But what we’ve learnt from Love Your Forest is that a range of innovative and collaborative solutions that are targeted locally and run in close partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors are also needed. They will be a key part in addressing the UK’s environmental and litter problems going forward, and will help to ensure that the only things we find in our forests and our rural environment in future is what nature intended.

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Read the most recent article written by Michelle Norman, Director of Sustainability - We need a whole-system approach to ensure a sustainable future for plastics that helps deliver net zero

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