‘Absolute chaos’ – council forced to spend extra £100,000 clearing up New Forest’s lockdown litter

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lockdown litter
One of the overflowing bins at Barton

OVERFLOWING bins, fly-tipped building waste and even a washed-up goat have prompted civic chiefs to plea for people to dispose of rubbish properly in the New Forest.

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The level of litter locally is estimated by district council workers to have more than doubled since the coronavirus lockdown started in March.

The cash-strapped authority has spent more than £100,000 hiring nine additional team members and three vehicles to help it cope, with staff undertaking double or triple daily shifts.

“It’s been absolute chaos since May,” said refuse collector Keith Brooks (61), who has worked for the authority for seven years. “It’s the busiest it’s been since I started here.

“We go down to the beaches and stuff is all around the bins and we have to do a litter pick. People being furloughed, takeaways reopening and the lovely weather have created the perfect storm.”

Speaking to the A&T, the man in charge of NFDC’s frontline litter operation, senior street scene supervisor Stewart Phillips, pleaded for people to take their litter home with them.

He added: “It’s about being responsible and, if the bin is full, making sure you take your stuff home with you. If you can bring it with you, you can take it home with you.”

Litter levels have “more than doubled”, Mr Phillips said, adding it was especially bad during hot weather at places close to the sea, including Milford clifftop, Lymington Quay, Hythe marina and Calshot as well as popular spots including Milford green.

NFDC senior street scene supervisor Stewart Phillips

“It’s where people can grab a takeaway and go to a spot to enjoy the sea – or have it delivered to them,” he said.

“It’s an inexpensive way to get out from the house and enjoy the area, but then they see the bin, and even if it’s full, they balance their rubbish on it or leave it on the ground.”

Among the most frustrating habits was people melting the tops of bins by leaving smouldering disposable barbecues on them.

“The strangest incident we’ve had was a goat that washed up on the beach near Naish last Friday afternoon. The smell was unbelievable,” he said.

Fly-tipping incidents in secluded spots have also increased. The most recent last week in Minstead involved building material, Mr Phillips continued.

Refuse staff had also reported encountering an increasing number of people from outside the New Forest – many from London.

“It does seem to be a product of ‘staycation’ type trips; those who have driven for an hour or so to come to the area,” Mr Phillips said.

The council has employed five more litter pickers, he said, plus an extra four workers to help with cleaning the public toilets after the reopening of 20 facilities in the district.

Refuse staff would usually tour one site per day to clear up rubbish but now were making two or three trips daily, each time returning with full vehicles.

Because of coronavirus regulations, the logistics of organising the litter operation has intensified, he said, as new staff have to be trained and given new uniforms, and modifications made to sites to make them safely accessible and new equipment purchased and signage installed.

New rules include litter staff having to travel alone in a bespoke vehicle. Mr Phillips praised NFDC senior bosses for enabling him to make changes to keep up with demand, saying he had been “really well supported”.

He acknowledged the controversy around household waste recycling centres, run by Hampshire County Council which introduced a booking system that caused frustration among residents unable to book a time. The recent addition of extra slots “will help” reduce litter levels, he said.

“To be honest it’s been a long six weeks.

“But everybody has worked amazingly hard, with staff cancelling leave and doing plenty of shifts as rubbish has more than doubled.

“We’ve never put on this much litter provision since I have worked here – which has been seven years.”

Coinciding with the NFDC plea is the launch of a campaign by volunteer group Litter Pickers of the New Forest, formed by Stephen Green on behalf of frustrated locals. They have reported finding human excrement and animals eating rubbish.

The campaign, Own Your Impact, will collaborate with other litter picking groups to raise awareness of how litter can damage the environment and harm wildlife.

Mr Green said he was seeking sponsorship so he could buy some of its 250 members high-viz jackets to wear during litter picks which have already gathered more than 80 bags full.

NFDC bin stance – bigger is not better

EVIDENCE suggests bigger bins attract more waste and fly-tipping, NFDC has warned, so it will concentrate on investing money on staff and signage if warnings are not taken on board.

Cllr Alison Hoare, cabinet member for the environment, said: “We are often asked why we don’t supply bigger

bins? There is evidence to suggest that bigger bins can attract more waste. We have seen this in images from other areas.

“But we also know that bin areas can attract fly-tipping. This is something that we particularly want to avoid in our coastal areas.”

Increases in staff and bin-emptying frequency caused “an increasing cost to the council taxpayer”, and if warnings continued to be ignored more enforcement team monitoring would be introduced – causing a further cost rise, she said.

Cllr Hoare added: “We understand sometimes people think they are doing the right thing by leaving waste neatly by a bin, but any uncontained waste is damaging to our environment.

“This is why we continue to ask people to be mindful and take home what they bring to the coast – whether that is picnic rubbish, takeaway packaging, beach toys or broken seating.”

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