Time for some creative thinking?

A few weeks ago Leeds City Council decided to deliver a knockout blow to the disease that is ‘littering’ by recruiting the services of 3gs, a specialist firm, to work alongside its existing enforcement team.  A team of four individuals will be charged with delivering no-questions-asked fixed penalty fines to anyone caught littering in the city centre. The project will run on a trial basis for six months.

A laudable initiative maybe, but certainly no game-changer.

I thought it timely to consider more creative initiatives.

I emailed a selection of Councillors a range of anti-litter initiatives with a view to encouraging some lateral thinking beyond the blind hope that enforcement will be the great panacea.

Here they are:

  • A 5% discount on a Council Tax bill if you can prove that you regularly commit time to improving your local neighbourhood. Financially, this may seem difficult to conceive of in a time of austerity, but the benefits for community cohesion and building a sense of local ‘ownership’ and civic pride, sadly missing in many areas, are huge. A ‘community action’ co-ordinator would need to be appointed, who could not only co-ordinate the action, but verify that a person had contributed so many hours of voluntary work per month as part of an agreed ‘neighbourhood improvement’ project. The question would be whether a 5% discount would be sufficient to generate enough interest from people wanting to improve their neighbourhoods. Set the discount too low, though, and nothing will happen.


  •  As part of the completion to a young person’s education, an obligatory spell of 4/6/8 weeks of voluntary action. I believe that this would be controversial initially and would have to be supported and delivered from a high level. But I also believe that this could kick-start a real engagement of young people with their own communities – if officially sanctioned, carefully planned and supportively carried out. It would present a generational shift: school pupils working for the good of their own communities and discovering the value of ‘doing good for nothing’, something we appear to have lost a long time ago. Alternatively, some incentivising or private funding might feature: as part of the deal, young people to receive privately-funded vouchers to gain free cinema tickets, discounts on meals or coach/train travel, for example. The whole ‘package’ would amount to a gesture of appreciation on completion of a person’s ‘voluntary service’. Private sector involvement would be vital here – time for the likes of Subway, McDonalds, Coca Cola, Walkers etc. to step up and play a bigger role!


  • Greater support from the Council for community clean-up initiatives. A community ‘link’ person, appointed by the Council, to specifically liaise with local communities and be a catalyst to facilitate local action. Someone who can offer guidance and practical support, galvanising people into action.


  • Council-sponsored anti-litter ambassadors to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of their local neighbourhoods. I can only relate how effective it has been for Guiseley, to have worked so closely with the local Council depot. Over 2,000 bags have been phoned through directly and promptly collected, full litter bins have been speedily emptied on request, hot spots reported and monitored, and local knowledge listened to.

These are just a few ideas. The alternative appears to be to simply keep fire-fighting and applying the sticking plaster of enforcement. Then 20 years hence, we will look around and all agree that nothing has really changed and that littering behaviour is still endemic.

Our elected people in power need to start embracing creative solutions which will genuinely impact on littering behaviour. The role we can play as volunteer activists can be to prompt and nudge our elected representatives into thinking beyond the jaded notion of enforcement as the universal remedy.

We need to roll out our ideas to the people with the power to deliver them. They may take years to come to fruition, but could well be worth the wait.

Jeff Yates,

The Litter-Free Guiseley Campaign,



  1. I have been promoting some of the above ideas in Gosport and Lee-on-the-Solent for some time but of course with no luck !

    You are lucky to live in an area where Enforcement is even used as a tool – here the only game in town is to keep trying to clean up after people ….once the good weather comes and people hit the beaches from all over the area then we are just left with the miserable legacy of broken bottles and disposable nappies etc on our beach – at least until they are dragged out to sea to continue ruining our marine environment for generations to come.

    Nevertheless we keep on building up a hard core of activists who are not prepared to give in.

    • Hi Graham.
      Yes, it’s always going to be a case of pushing the rock up the mountain. Litter is with us to stay until littering behaviour is tackled by the powers that be and we manage to achieve a cultural shift.
      I’ve programmed myself to going out 3/4 times a month, always taking 10 bags with me and not returning home until I’ve filled them! In between I liaise with headteachers, councillors, parish councils and local street cleansing departments, trying to get them to raise their game – with variable success.
      It’s a job that needs doing, so we’ve just got to do it.
      Keep up the good work and always consider what you achieve, not what you don’t quite achieve!



  2. Most households endeavour to keep the area around their houses free from litter. How about enshrining this in law, making householders responsible, in law, for keeping not only their front gardens free of litter but all pavement (s) and gutters surrounding their properties as well. The whole street could then enjoy a reduction in council tax, while those not bothering to keep their areas clean would incur an increase in council tax, or a small but noticeable cut in benefits ( shock/ horror ) if council tax for some households is paid by the state.
    This might at least prompt everyone ( including children ) to consider their actions before thoughtlessly dropping rubbish .
    All shops would similarly be responsible for the area around their premises including car parks, together with recreational places where food purchased in their shops is eaten.
    Shops in clean, litter free shopping areas could also enjoy a small decrease in council tax.
    All streets and shopping areas would be assessed for cleanliness by an appointed official ?
    There needs to be a return somehow to using litter bins, and taking ones rubbish home with you.
    People fouling beaches is more difficult. Some young moms seem to leave dirty nappies everywhere including public baths changing rooms!

  3. Thanks for your comments, Janet – some thought-provoking ideas there.
    The only problems with enshrining ‘pro-social’ behaviour in law are, firstly, whether there is the political appetite to do it and secondly, whether there would be a commitment on the part of local authorities to enforce it.
    Resourcing issues would also play a part – when I was called to a meeting to discuss the idea of reductions in Council Tax to incentivise voluntary action, there appeared little interest in taking the idea further (to research or policy-making departments, for example) on the part of the Councillors who were present. Basically, they suggested that there was no chance of reducing the revenue from Council Tax at the present time. They appeared to be fixated on quick-fix, short-term solutions, not more expansive, longer-term solutions aimed at changing littering behaviour.
    Your ideas embody the sort of lateral thinking that our elected representatives rather disappointingly shy away from.


    Jeff Yates

  4. Jeff some interesting ideas there. I’m attempting to start a group in our area. What suggestions do you (or anyone else) have for getting the group up and running?

    • Hi Rob.

      You could call a meeting for like-minded people who want to declare war on litter – maybe advertise in a local library or shops, or even post out some notices to houses in the area. You might also wish to contact your local Council or Councillors to see if they can offer you any support. At the very least, they ought to provide you with litterpickers and bags. Local street-cleaning services should want to work with you on this as it supplements their own efforts.
      You might otherwise go-it-alone, as I did, for a while, using a high-viz vest with your group’s name on the back, ensuring the words ‘VOLUNTEER’ or ‘LOCAL ACTION’ are clearly visible, so that you are not considered to be a local council employee. In addition, advertise a litter-picking event locally and see who turns up – again, your local Councillors should be supporting you here (providing equipment etc.)

      All the best, and let me know when you have lift-off!

      Jeff Yates,
      The Litter-Free Guiseley Campaign,

      • Hi Jeff

        Thank you for your help and ideas. I started solo and I’m really surprised at the results achieved so far. After collecting 8 (carrier) bags in the first week, it quickly fell to four, then two and even as low as a half a bag sometimes.

        What’s most interesting is that I have local young people knocking on the door to borrow the litter picker because they enjoy helping to keep the area tidy.

        Thank you again Jeff for your help and encouragement!


        • Hi Rob.

          I wished I lived in your area! I always take 10 bags with me and (much to my wife’s concern) return from my peregrinations once the bags are full. The level of littering appears constant and consistent from week to week.

          Glad to be of assistance.


          Jeff Yates,
          The Litter-Free Guiseley Campaign.

  5. Hi Jeff

    I think that I will expand my sphere of collection outwards. What I’m doing right now is restricted to the very local area.

    This way I will be able to collect more litter and be entitled to use the word peregrinations!

    How much help or assistance are you receiving from the council?

    Best regards


    • Hi Rob.

      The Council provide me with an unlimited supply of bags and any new litter-picking tongues that I may require. They are also usually very prompt in collecting bags and addressing problems identified to them.


      The Litter-Free Guiseley Campaign.

  6. Hi Jeff

    That’s good to hear. I’ll use that information to see if I can get Bristol City Council to do the same.

    They are very good at collecting bags and addressing problems particularly fly tipping.

    If I can get a couple of litter pickers and some bags there are a couple of young people who would really appreciate and use them!

    Thank you for your advice Jeff much appreciated!


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