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When it comes to litter, rural areas have the highest amount of litter across the country, with up to 13 times the amount of litter found in our town and city centres. That’s according to this year’s Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report from the environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

Across all Council areas, 39% of rural transects failed the accepted standard for litter, compared to 13% for secondary retail areas and only 3% for primary retail zones. This may be due to scarce resources increasingly being focused on areas with a higher footfall, or Councils being careful not to put their staff in harm’s way on country roads. Subsequently, the proportion of litter coming from motorists overall has increased from 26% to 30%, as 95% of the litter in rural areas comes from passing vehicles.

It’s not all bad news, however. The percentage of transects completely free of litter has seen a leap from 5% to 12%, the highest it has been since the litter reports began in 2010. Furthermore, the report also states that the average number of surveyed transects across all land uses that failed has remained steady from last year at 15%, while those suffering from dog fouling has also stayed the same at 6%.

Levels of engagement and education have also increased proportionately this year, with over 111,000 people getting involved with civic pride initiatives through the Live Here Love Here campaign and 273 schools earning the right to fly the coveted Green Flag, the pinnacle of the Eco-Schools programme. The number of Fixed Penalty Notices issued by Council Enforcement Officers has dropped however, down 13% on last year’s figures. Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful says the answer to the litter issue lies in a balance to these approaches. He added, “We know people will stop littering if they think they will be fined. So removing the postcode lottery from this important measure is a must. Supporting education through Eco-Schools and positive community action through Live Here Love Here are also key facets of the overall solution. Finally, we must all play our part in challenging those who defile our towns and countryside.”

The report concludes with a number of recommendations for combating the litter problem, which tie in with the publication of recent EU Waste Directive Amendments that are also included in the work. It’s yet to be seen how much of this legislation will survive the Brexit process, much less be adopted by the Northern Ireland Assembly, but steps clearly need to be taken to stem an issue that is disproportionately effecting our countryside.