If you want less litter – the answer is fewer bins - supposedly

June 2017 - There is a big issue with the amount of litter discarded on towpaths, as any boater knows, and that is especially true in urban areas where C&RT has litter bins installed to encourage visitors to dispose of their rubbish properly. Yet the Trust is in the process of removing four in ten towpath bins, as Alec Wood reports.

It was back in April that the National Bargee Travellers Association challenged Canal & River Trust to produce research it said backed up its claim that taking away bins will reduce litter. Nearly two months later it still hasn't provided any research.

In the meeting between Canal & River Trust (C&RT) and the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) London branch, C&RT said that they have a national plan to remove 40 per cent of litter bins from the towpaths in order to reduce litter.

It plans to keep them in storage and only reinstate them if litter continues to be a problem.

Sam Thomas, C&RT's London Customer Operations Manager, said that “there is equal evidence for and against having less bins”. To date, he hasn't been able to share this evidence.

When replying to anti-litter campaign group, Keep Britain Tidy, C&RT had a different justification, blaming the 'mistreatment' of bins as a reason to remove them.

It said: "In London, a number of litter bins along the towpath were being mistreated and were being used by people to fly tip... This means the bins in question were overflowing... people walking along the towpath will have to carry their litter a little further to put it in a bin, or maybe even take it home…”.

However, the plan to remove 40 per cent of litter bins is a national policy, according to information given to the NBTA, not just a London policy, making it difficult to argue that the 'mistreatment' of litter bins in London is a good reason to take away bins nationally.

Yet, C&RT has already started removing litter bins. Two bins were removed in Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire, one of which was next to the permanent ice cream boat. Another bin has been taken from a busy picnic area in Hackney, East London.

Keep Britain Tidy called the move by C&RT 'concerning' and promised to take it up with the Trust.

Boaters report it is already a struggle to find litter bins on the towpath, particularly in west London, yet there’s never a shortage of litter, so it would be interesting to see what evidence C&RT has to support their view that fewer bins equals less litter.

London boaters have suggested that emptying the bins more often would solve any 'overflowing, issues, yet when questioned about the frequency at which bins are emptied, C&RT’s response stated “some daily, some weekly, some depend on season”. It is difficult to avoid the idea that a clear emptying policy might have been a better starting point than removing bins.

Marcus Trower, the Deputy Chair of the NBTA said: “When C&RT told us about their plans to take away 40 per cent of bins to reduce litter, I thought they were joking. Then to store them and put them back if it doesn't work, sounds like a kind of dance routine with bins:

“You put the bins in,
“You take the bins out,
“Store them for a bit,
“And then put them back again.

“This plan must be in C&RT's top 10 list of bad ideas. Think about the money C&RT will spend on this dead end plan. If the public have nowhere to put their litter, it will be thrown on the ground, get into the water and end up around our propellers. I hope C&RT has a serious rethink”.

Photos: (1st) A full towpath bin, (2nd) The site of a bin - now removed - at Cheshunt where boaters still litterpick but can now only carry all the rubbish away on their boats to 'some other' bins which cunningly likewise no longer exist, (3rd) Full and overflowing in Camden, (4th) Missing bin in Hackney, (5th) Keep Britain Tidy's Twitter response.

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