At first glance it is hard to understand why Doncaster has been labelled the most littered town in Britain.
In the centre of this historic market town the streets are impressively rubbish free. There are large green bins on every corner, emptied four times a day, each sporting a sticker warning of a £150 fine for anyone caught dropping litter.
But you only need to walk for five minutes to see evidence of the escalating litter problem big towns and cities such as Doncaster are struggling to contain.
It doesn’t take long to find ‘grot spots’: stretches of verge and hedgerow tangled with plastic bags; alleys piled high with fly-tipped mattresses and furniture; areas of long grass scattered with cans, crisp and sweet wrappers, and plastic bottles that look as if they’ve lain there for years.
The Mail helped transform this river – and it’s still looking sparkling… (pictured: Don Aqueduct, Kirk Bramwith, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire)
These are in stark contrast not only to the pristine shopping streets, but another area close to the centre of Doncaster — a stretch of water which is so clean, last week fishermen reported catching (and throwing back) a large salmon.
I’m delighted to see this waterway, which feeds into the River Don, running free because it wasn’t always so pristine. Last year the Daily Mail was alerted to a particularly bad build-up of plastic debris on this stretch of water. Residents complained that it smelled fetid, presenting a threat to wildlife.
The Mail tasked me to clean it up as part of its ten-year campaign to Turn The Tide On Plastic. But when I began investigating the best way to get it sorted, I was met with a wall of red tape. Clearing hard-to-access waterways costs a lot — I was quoted £60,000 by one outfit — and no one was keen to take responsibility for the bill.
But the river was eventually cleared, in vivid proof of what’s possible when people care. Yet this is no time for complacency.
Sadly there is so much more to do… Pictured: Plastic and litter near a bus stop in Doncaster
The litter filled streets and road sides of Doncaster. You only need to walk for five minutes to see evidence of the escalating litter problem big towns and cities are struggling to contain
Just feet from the bank, there’s a 30-metre stretch of bushes strangled by old plastic rubbish. It would only take high water levels to wash it all back into the river.
There’s a form on the Doncaster Council website to report litter spots, with the authority saying they will clear them within five days. But the residents I meet are dismissive about the council.
One said she had phoned the council many times and tweeted photos of discarded rubbish. ‘Doncaster is disgusting,’ she says. Then she adds the phrase I was to hear many times during my visit: ‘Donny Council does NOTHING!’
She directs me to the narrow Victorian streets of the Hyde Park area, with its back-to-back terrace houses. Here, pavements and gutters are swirling with rubbish — paper, plastic gloves, cigarette packets, cans and bottles.
The owner of the Krakow corner shop tells me: ‘It’s appalling! These streets ARE the local litter bin.’
While locals are keen to blame the council, Doncaster MP Rosie Winterton says those who leave the litter are most at fault. ‘Fly-tipping is a health hazard, bad for the environment and people who do it are behaving appallingly.’
Just feet from the bank, there’s a 30-metre stretch of bushes strangled by old plastic rubbish. It would only take high water levels to wash it all back into the river
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s constituency encompasses the more rural areas of Doncaster North where the main rubbish problem is fly-tipping and plastic thrown out of cars and lorries.
He said: ‘The council has made progress but there is a lot more to do. I regularly take up my constituents’ cases around fly-tipping and litter with the council.’
The council spends £500,000 a year on litter clearing, employing 200 ‘enforcement officers’ and 70 litter pickers. But the litter problem only seems to get worse.
Thanks to initiatives such as Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, communities are taking litter picking into their own hands. A key local figure is mum-of-three Bex Shaw, who formed the Doncaster Green Team last year and has 250 Facebook followers who join her on litter picks.
Most days Bex, 40, who works as a support teacher for special needs children, will be out on her own, clearing litter. ‘I’m so sick of seeing it everywhere. Instead of moaning, I decided to do something,’ she explains. She takes me to the industrial estates around the Keepmoat Stadium, home to football team Doncaster Rovers.
Club Doncaster, which runs the Keepmoat, spends £150,000 a year on cleaning and waste management. Yet there are stretches of roadside here so badly littered it looks like a Third World country.
‘The litter is clearly coming from visitors to the stadium and workers in the factories and distribution centres here, so it would be great if the businesses took some responsibility for keeping it clear,’ she says. Worst is a 50-metre stretch of verge behind a bus stop outside the massive Tesco distribution centre. There is no litter bin and people getting on and off buses drop their food and drink wrappers into the bushes.
I spot hundreds of bright blue plastic hairnets (the sort worn by workers handling food) and countless light brown plastic coffee cups from office vending machines.
I contact the King Asia Foods plant over the road, which produces oriental foods, and Tesco HQ to ask if they’d noticed the problem and might like to join the spirit of the GB Spring Clean. King Asia don’t reply, but Tesco get back immediately to say: ‘Although this rubbish is not on Tesco land we have arranged to clean up the site and will monitor the area closely going forward.’
Bex is thrilled. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every business around here put some of its profit towards keeping Doncaster clear of litter, rather than trying to shift responsibility to the council?’
She then takes us around the back of the Keepmoat to a car park area rented out to weekend car boot sales. There are huge signs advertising that this section of the stadium is sponsored by waste management company, Ellgia. Ironically, beneath these signs the grassy banks are strewn with plastic and fast-food residue discarded by the car-booters.
Despite the disgruntlement among Doncaster’s residents, it is clear the council is trying to get on top of the litter problem, businesses are increasingly beginning to shoulder their share of the burden and there are plenty of volunteers willing to help.
Mark Benton, the council’s environmental crime officer, says: ‘We need to think of littering as anti-social behaviour. It isn’t a council problem, it’s everyone’s problem and we all have to do our bit.’