How Covid is fuelling West Sussex’s roadside litter epidemic

With Britain reeling from the pandemic, litter on our roads has become an endemic problem.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 9:09 am

Drive along any road recently and you’ll have noticed something. Rubbish. And lots of it.

Verges across West Sussex are clogged with every kind of detritus imaginable: cigarette butts, bottles, fast food wrappers, bin bags and white goods – to list just a few.

Not only is this an eye-sore, blighting our picturesque countryside, it is hazardous to human and animal life. The RSCPA says it receives 14 calls a day about animals affected by litter.

The A27 Clean Up Campaign SUS-210325-090348001

Neil Kerridge, Co-chair of the A27 Clean Up Campaign, said that although ‘some country lanes aren’t too bad’, many main roads ‘are not only absolutely filthy, but are amongst the dirtiest in the western world’.

“Our roadsides are a national embarrassment,” he continued.

The causes of this problem are many. Badly secured items to the backs of trucks, products laden with unnecessary plastic and, of course, a small, yet selfish, minority of litterers all play a part in it.

But there is one phenomenon that has made the situation a whole lot worse. Yes, you guessed it, Covid.

While recognising that roadside litter was a ‘perennial’ concern, Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Waste at Horsham District Council, Councillor Philip Circus said that coronavirus had ‘changed patterns of consumption, particularly of food products, which have led to a spike in the problem’.

He also cited shorter opening hours and social distancing measures at local amenity tips brought about by the pandemic as having an impact.

West Sussex County Council is in the process of rolling out a trial booking system at a number of West Sussex tips, including at Horsham, which will require visits to be pre-arranged at a specific time slot.

Lockdown measures have also dramatically increased the workloads of delivery drivers, truckers and hauliers, who can be forced to eat on the go and cannot always easily stop to dispose of waste properly.

But not everyone agrees this is linked. When asked if Covid had affected the roadside litter crisis, Mr Kerridge answered ‘not really, no’.

He said: “Although we understand the difficulties they face … ultimately, the condition of the roadside is due to the actions of, and lack of focus by, the UK Government.

“Not only are they happy to see increased tax revenues through [the] expansion of take away food outlets … but they [have] also cut funding to local councils.”

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, local councils in England have seen an average cut to their budgets of almost 26 per cent since 2010.

“In his election victory speech in 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised ‘to make this country the cleanest, greenest on Earth’. His government clearly has got a long way to go,” added Mr. Kerridge.