Evidencing the Importance of Tackling Litter

12th October 2018

Zero Waste Scotland commissioned us to carry out a study that explored and quantified the indirect costs of litter in Scotland so they could understand the wider impact of the problem.

This was the first project that looked at ‘the bigger picture’: before this research there was limited understanding of the costs of litter in addition to the direct costs of cleaning it up. Omitting these costs in any evaluation fails to recognise the full scale of the problem.

The final report Exploring the Indirect Costs of Litter in Scotland brought together evidence on a comprehensive range of indirect costs that were specific to the Scottish context. The largest categories in respect of costs that are ‘internalised’ relate to, in descending order:

  • Property values (As an illustration, if 1% of Scotland’s housing stock were devalued by 2.7% due to litter this would equate to a £100 million loss in value);
  • Mental health (Approximately £53 million per annum);
  • Crime (Up to £22.5 million per annum);
  • Road Traffic Accidents (Approximately £1 million per annum);
  • Wildfires (Approximately £1 million per annum);
  • Punctures (Approximately £1 million per annum); and
  • Rats (Approximately £1 million per annum).

However, with the exception of the impacts in respect of property values, mental health and crime, these internalised costs are considerably lower than the estimates of the key ‘external’ costs, derived from ‘willingness-to-pay’ studies:

  • Local disamenity (£73-770 million); and
  • Beach litter disamenity (£50 -100 million).

We used a brainstorming approach in order to define the scope of ‘indirect’ costs and guide our review of the literature. This method is particularly useful in cases where there are a lot of unknowns.

The research we produced informed the final litter strategy produced by Zero Waste Scotland.

Programme Manager at Zero Waste Scotland, Daniel Stunell commented:

“Eunomia’s work on the indirect costs of litter brought together information on the many – and significant – costs litter imposes on society in an easily accessible way, and specific to the Scottish context.  It also offered an honest assessment of the evidence gaps. 

“The work was particularly useful in framing the debate around the negative impacts of litter more broadly than was previously the case.  This is critical to mainstreaming litter pollution as a significant environmental and social challenge, and also helped make the subject relevant to a wider range of stakeholders. 

“The cost estimates in the work may change as the evidence base improves over time, but the identification of the cost areas worthy of consideration is likely to be the basis for any debate on indirect costs for the foreseeable future.”

Chris Sherrington, our Head of Environmental Policy and Economics and project director said:

“The findings relating to ‘willingness to pay’ effectively represents the ‘welfare gain’ that would be achieved if our local environments became less littered. It doesn’t, however, mean that this is how much we should spend on picking up litter. At a time when local authority finances are hugely stretched, we need to focus on the most cost-effective ways to prevent litter in the first place.”

Our work on framing the debate around the indirect costs of litter continues to feed into the development of strategies to tackle litter effectively. Since the initial project with ZWS, we have completed a similar piece of research for Keep Britain Tidy,  which focuses on England.

More information about Eunomia’s policy development services can be found here.