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Britain’s top ten littered brands

April 3, 2011

Keep Britain Tidy have announced the results of the litter league of shame, the top ten most littered brands in the country. Drum roll please:

1.   McDonald’s
2.   Cadbury
3.   Greggs
4.   Wrigley
5.   Coca-Cola
6.   Mars Incorporated
7.   Unbranded fish&chips/kebab/pizza
8.   Marlboro (Philip Morris Int)
9.   Lambert & Butler (Imperial)
10. Subway

Interesting to see that six out of the ten are US brands ( thanks America). It makes me wonder what the results would be if the same survey was repeated internationally. What are the top ten littered brands in say, Moscow, Bangkok, or Sao Paulo? I bet some of the same names appear, the global trash of a global culture.

The top ten list is in the papers today as a way of raising awareness of a wider campaign, Love Where You Live. Litter campaigners will be working with the brands on the list to try and reduce the amount of litter.

That’s great, but getting people to put their trash in the bin is one thing. Halting the throwaway culture that’s behind it is quite another. Working with the brands to reduce packaging, and to make it biodegradeable, are also really important. Particularly the latter – if a cardboard burger box ends up in a hedgerow, it’ll break down in a matter of months. If it’s a plastic sandwich packet, it’s there indefinitely.

To us, it’s quite exciting when we turn up something ancient. People pay good money for medieval glass bottles or Roman coins. I doubt that will be true of our descendants, who will be ploughing up Evian bottles in the fields or finding discarded Happy Meal toys in their back gardens for hundreds of years to come. And while we call ancient objects ‘artefacts’, to our ancestors these things will probably still be trash.

Growing up in Africa, the legacy of non-biodegradeable waste was already obvious. In Madagascar in the 80s, most of the litter was organic, things like banana and orange peels. When they were in season, lychee husks ran ankle-deep along the kerbs by the bus-stops.

Moving to Kenya a few year later, the litter was strikingly different. Kenya was much more connected to the global economy than Madagascar was, and here the problem was plastic. Plastic carrier bags were everywhere, in the trees or on barbed wire fences, slowly shredding in the wind. The British supermarkets would rebrand or run a new campaign, and shift their unused stocks of carrier bags to Africa. Here the out of date bags wouldn’t dilute their carefully crafted brand, but without the infrastructure to collect and dispose of these trappings of globalisation, the landscape ended up littered with Asda and Tesco’s waste.

Kenya has now banned the plastic bag, and so has South Africa, Tanzania, and a number of other African nations. We haven’t caught up with that idea yet, but we should follow their lead. Beyond the most obvious symptoms of litter, we ought to ask bigger questions of our brands and their packaging habits. There is absolutely no good reason to wrap a sandwich that will last five minutes in packaging that lasts a thousand years.

(cross-posted at MWH)


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