Shock tactics in the war on waste

By Nick Kemp | 19 March 2019

Like all growing cities Newcastle has a litter problem – but also big ambitions. In the last two years we have built more than 1,000 new homes, and hundreds of new jobs are being created. More than 90,000 people commute into the city every day and so the demand for our services, especially waste services, continues to go up as our budgets continue to go down.

It’s clear that the public’s tolerance of those who drop litter and fly-tip rubbish is wearing thin. Every time we survey our residents, the environment, the state of their neighbourhoods and the problem of litter always feature at the top of their list of complaints. People are sick of litter blighting their streets. And thanks to popular TV programmes such as Blue Planet, the public are becoming more and more aware of the need to clean up our environment.

In Newcastle we have an innovative policy agenda around the environment to deliver a cleaner and greener city. We have introduced bigger litter bins with sensors for more efficient collections and are piloting a contaminated waste reduction scheme in household bins. We also made a manifesto pledge to launch an anti-litter campaign and asked our award-winning communications team to come up with an idea to grab people’s attention and keep them engaged in the war on waste.

They came up with shock tactics.

We collected litter and fly-tipped material over five hours and unveiled it to the media at a waste plant. We invited reporters out with our cleansing teams who travel the length and breadth of our back lanes picking up bulky items. The result was a 10-tonne mountain of stinking rotting trash - from babies’ nappies to wardrobes; raw meat to mattresses and settees to shopping trolleys.

The purpose was to show the scale of the problem we face, and how it’s everyone’s problem - not just the city council’s. Every year we collect around 7,000 tonnes of litter and fly-tipped material at a cost of more than £2m. That’s enough to plant 5,000 trees; fill 40,000 pot holes or support 100 children in foster placements. Think about how better our country could be if people just behaved responsibly and disposed of their litter correctly.

Our campaign, Your city, your home, is designed to make people think about their behaviour and asks the question: You wouldn’t drop litter in your own home so why do it in your city which is your home? The artwork shows a motorist throwing a carton of chips out of a car window and the contents scattering across a bedroom floor. A second poster shows a fly-tipper discarding an old washing machine which is about to spill its contents into his kitchen. We hope these images will make people think before they do the unthinkable and in time change behaviour.

For those who don’t mend their ways we have a strong enforcement message - even dropping a cigarette end could cost £75 in a fixed penalty notice (FPN). We already have a strong reputation for enforcement having issued more than 5,000 FPNs last year and we are the third highest council for prosecutions of waste crimes including fly-tipping. This will continue as we have increased the number of officers qualified to issue FPNs.

In the next few weeks we will supplement our campaign advertising with a new interactive website designed to engage the city in an honest conversation about litter. We will encourage people to report litter and fly-tipping incidents; pledge support through litter picks and show the impact our campaign is having through a series of graphics.

In Newcastle, we are determined to become a world leader in dealing with waste. We were the first council in the country to set up a body of experts, the Newcastle Waste Commission. They produced a comprehensive report with recommendations for reducing, re-using and recycling waste which was well received by the city’s licensees, many of which banned plastic straws in response. We have used the report to inform a new waste strategy for the city that sets out a new approach to tackling waste over the next 15 years.

With its architecture, listed buildings and green open spaces, we are proud of our beautiful city, but as we continue to grow we must work harder and smarter to keep it that way.

Cllr Nick Kemp, is cabinet member for the environment for Newcastle City Council

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