Littercam: Could Artificial Intelligence help councils solve the UK’s littering crisis?

A new technology called Littercam turns ordinary CCTV cameras into ones capable of identifying littering, ITV News' Pablo Taylor reports, with words by Ellie Swinton

It’s one of the most common crimes in the UK.

Littering – much of it done by motorists throwing rubbish out of their cars – cost councils in England over £800 million to clear up last year.

It’s a nationwide problem and the vast majority of offenders go unpunished, creating streams of rubbish alongside our roads.

Now, local authorities are turning to AI to help with the crisis. A new technology called Littercam, which is being trialled by eight councils across the country, turns ordinary CCTV cameras into ones capable of identifying littering.

The software is designed to spot pieces of rubbish being thrown from a car, picking up even the small bits of detritus.

It analyses CCTV footage, registers the car’s number plate in the case of a littering offence, and councils can then contact the DVLA to help with the potential issuing of fines.

Andrew Kemp, co-founder and CEO of Littercam Credit: ITV News

Andrew Kemp, co-founder and CEO of Littercam, says: “There’s a large section of society who don’t believe there’s any deterrent, that they’re not going to be caught.

"They can simply get away with it. But this technology will hopefully give local authorities the powers to do that.”

Littercam technology has specifically been designed with common litter types in mind.

An estimated two million pieces of litter a day are dropped in the UK and among them the most commonly littered items are cigarette butts, which make up 66% of all the littered items dropped, but by volume drinks cans and bottles are the biggest issue, accounting for more than 70% of litter by volume.

Campaigners say we shouldn’t need AI and that it’s decades of inaction from government that has left the UK lagging behind other countries when it comes to cleaner roads.

John Read from Clean Up Britain says: “We argue that we are the most littering country in the western world.

"I’ve been to countries like New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Canada – these countries are all pristine compared to Britain.

"The government needs to speak to people like ourselves and other organisations who really care about this. There’s too much green-washing going on. There’s too much talking, not enough action and that’s what we need to see.”

The government says it has taken action and has already trebled the fine for littering.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We have taken significant action to tackle littering across the country by making extensive funding available, banning certain single-use plastics and setting up the Chewing Gum Task Force to help councils remove gum stains from high streets.

A new technology called Littercam turns ordinary CCTV cameras into ones capable of identifying littering. Credit: ITV News

“Our commitment to tackling the scourge of littering is clear – including by providing nearly £1 million in grant funding to councils to purchase new bins, £10 million for a High Streets Community Clean-up Fund and raising the upper limit for on-the-spot littering penalties to £500.”

Keep Britain Tidy added: “Litter has a devastating impact on wildlife. It is estimated that more than two million small mammals die each year as a result of crawling into discarded drinks containers – attracted by the sugar – and being unable to get out again.

"Obviously, there is also the issue of plastic once it goes into the marine environment.

"Around 80% of the plastic in the oceans comes from the land and then breaks down into microplastics that are ingested by marine life.

"Even if you live nowhere near the sea, the litter you drop in the street or the cigarette butt you drop down a drain can still end up in the ocean.”

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