We have created a new model to calculate the cost of dealing with littered items to inform discussions of how the burden of those costs can be shifted from local authorities towards producers under new producer responsibility legislation.

The model, produced for WRAP, is a first-of-its kind tool and provides a picture of both the total costs incurred for litter clean-up as well as estimates of costs associated with managing different types of items when they end up as litter.

Every year, litter costs approximately £660 million to UK local authorities, with packaging making up more than half of that total. This is putting strain on already stretched budgets, with all costs ultimately paid by taxpayers. To deal with this more fairly, i.e. more in line with the polluter pays principle, the government has proposed including litter costs in an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging.

Calculating the cost of litter is not straightforward. Streetcleansing department costs include lots of other management activities related to fly-tipping, graffiti, weeds, detritus, verge cutting, street furniture and abandoned vehicles, coming to a total of £1 billion in the UK every year. Moreover, the aggregate costs of dealing with specific item types are influenced not only by the number of items, but also their weight and volume. For example, cigarette butts are really light, but in terms of number of littered items they may comprise 10-20% of the litter count if not more.

The model Eunomia created for WRAP determines the total cost of litter as a proportion of street cleansing costs, taking into account count, weight and volume. The model is applicable to any item that has been categorised in waste composition data, and the method is applicable in a standard way to every item and across territories.

Standardising how costs of litter are calculated should support producer consensus on costs, which facilitates EPR roll out; manufacturers additionally benefit from seeing that they are not getting overcharged through such a system for the costs incurred when their products are littered.

The model can readily be applied beyond the UK and will be particularly relevant for EU Member States where the Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) requires litter costs for specific items to be covered by producers through EPR.

Commenting on the model, Chiarina Darrah, Senior Consultant at Eunomia, said: “It feels really good to see the headway being made in the UK and the EU on getting the costs of litter redistributed more fairly in society. This will help get the right stakeholders round the table to do something about the problem. As most marine litter is terrestrial litter first, this is a really effective juncture at which to address it – on land!”

Billy Harris, Senior Analyst at WRAP, said: “This is an innovative piece of work that represents a major step towards understanding the cost of litter management to UK local authorities and other statutory bodies. It will play an important role in informing the debate around litter costs in the context of Extended Producer Responsibility.

The report on the model is available on the WRAP website.