The British countryside it being 'trashed' by litter, according to Bill Bryson, who suggested dropping rubbish should be as unacceptable as refusing to wear a seat belt.
By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM GMT 24 Mar 2010
Bill Bryson said people should be ashamed of dropping litter Photo: BBC
The best-selling author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said nearly £800 million is spent every year clearing up litter in Britain.
Yet the majority of people who drop drinks cans and sweet wrappers can be persuaded to put their litter in the bin.
He called for a new advertising campaign, similar to the one in the 1970s that followed the seat belt laws, that makes it clear dropping litter is not acceptable.
"We need a more effective programme of persuasion, more money spent on adverts, much the same way as the seat belt laws where important messages were brought across to people. If we have an effective advertising campaign most people can be persuaded to do the right thing. It is saying to people you have a wonderful country. Why trash it?"
The American-born travel writer, who has written a series of books about Britain including Notes on a Small Island, suggested adverts should be amusing.
"The underlying message is it is a wonderful country, you should look after it. They have shown 85 per cent of people who drop litter are willing to reduce the amount or eliminate it. Also you have to make it easier. We need more litter bins."
The amount of litter dropped in Britain has risen 500 per cent since the 1960s, with cigarette butts, chewing gum and fast food waste the major problem. It is estimated 30 million tonnes of litter is dropped every year, or 1.3 million bits of litter every weekend.
The Government, local authorities and major companies including Wrigley's, CocaCola and McDonald's are discussing ways to reduce litter from fast foods and snacks. Ideas include putting more bins around restaurants and organising litter picks in busy areas.
But ultimately Mr Bryson said it was up to the individual to take responsibility and the focus should be on persuasion through a series of adverts on television, in newspapers and on the internet.
"It is not the companies responsible. They have a certain amount of responsibility but if you see a McDonald's cup on the street it is not really McDonald's fault, it is the fault of the people who put it there," he said. "It is not exclusively a British problem but it is bad enough here. Partly because people do it without thinking. If you stop them and ask them to put it in the bin they know they should be ashamed of themselves."
CPRE are also calling for bottle deposit schemes to encourage people to bring back empty bottles or cans to the shops and more training for local authorities enforcement officers so people who drop litter or fly tip are fined.