Status quo on littering in Germany

Status quo on littering in Germany

02.09.2020

Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA) published in May the results of a study carried out on the careless disposal of waste in the public domain – described here as littering. It says that the occurrence of litter in the environment has increased in the last five years. Apart from giving the relevant data on the quantities involved and places where the litter ends up, the study also deals with possible approaches for action to help reduce littering.

The results section of the publication begins by saying that the problem is not new, even though the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have increased the thoughtless disposal of litter in the environment. Zeus GmbH, in conjunction with the Öko-Institut e.V., has examined where, what and how much litter is carelessly discarded. For this purpose, surveys – also online – were carried out with the participation of the population. According to the result of the online survey, 58 percent of the experts questioned assume that littering has increased over the last five years. With regard to the last ten years, 62 percent estimate that the amount of litter discarded into the environment has increased. Among the top three types of waste are plastic composite materials (57 percent), plastic waste (49 percent) and bulky waste (43 percent). With regard to the products discarded as litter, cigarette butts (75 percent) head the list in front of disposable beverage cups (71 percent), chewing gum (68 percent) and disposable packaging (59 percent). According to the study, the calculated amount of litter throughout Germany based on data from the online survey and secondary literature amounts to around 300,000 t, which corresponds to approx. 0.6 percent of the typical household urban waste collected in 2015.
Furthermore, possible measures, tools and action to reduce the amount of litter were considered and evaluated in terms of their effectiveness. These were, on the one hand, educational and sensitizing measures oriented to the direct avoidance of littering and, on the other, indirectly effective, product-related measures. The regulation relating to the ban on single-use plastics, initiated by the Federal Environment Agency was also examined in more detail. Derived from this, the authors recommend in particular focusing on measures targeted at changing people's awareness and behavior. These should, however, be longer-term because it means bringing about behavioral change. With the indirectly effective measures, the focus should be on expanding and simplifying bottle deposit schemes and return systems. Overall, the expert interviews showed that combined measures were more successful than individual measures, with one example being the combination of a waste-logistical measure (striking design of waste containers) together with sensitizing measures (posters and direct appeal), which has already been scientifically investigated. Further research should be carried out on other successful combinations of this kind.
Generally speaking, the authors consider it necessary, if countermeasures are to be successful, that the government – or, depending on the type of measure, the state parliament or local government – should set a regulatory framework. Over and above that, the authors see a further need for research in building up an in-depth database on littering in Germany, which should be based on a standard measuring methodology. Here, a long time series should make changes visible. To achieve uniform data collection throughout Germany and in order to be able to exchange successful measures in local areas, they propose a joint platform that could be coordinated by the government.
More information: Download of the study
Sources:
    • umweltbundesamt.de (28.5.2020)
    • Photo: © Rike / Pixelio

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