It's a rubbish job but someone has to do it - the team having to clear litter from our roads

Next time you see rubbish at the side of the road, spare a thought for those whose job it is, to clear it up - especially on a motorway.

Just picture the scene - you are standing on the edge of a live carriageway, with vehicles whizzing by at 70mph, while you pick up food and drinks cans (or worse), that someone has mindlessly discarded from their moving window.

It is a dirty, rubbish job, and of course, let's not forget incredibly dangerous, but an almost daily chore for the team at National Highways.

They invited our cameras to film one such litter pick on a stretch of the M56 near Junction 12, to highlight the problem of roadside littering.

The team also received a helping hand from Keep Britain Tidy campaigners and Mike Amesbury, MP for Weaver Vale.

Somewhere every day on the motorway network, National Highways teams are out picking up rubbish discarded at the roadside Credit: ITV News

What the team found was apparently pretty typical; plenty of discarded food and drink containers, fast food takeaway packaging; plastic sheeting; disposable masks and gloves; cigarette stubs, and plenty of cardboard.

Bottles full of urine, are a common sight at the side of our motorways and among the most disgusting items of litter that National Highways have to pick up on an almost daily basis.

The team from National Highways, litter picking on a stretch of the M56 Credit: Keep Britain Tidy

The amount of litter dropped in the UK has increased by 500% since the 1960s - that equates to 30 million tonnes of rubbish.

And as part of their Great British Spring Clean campaign, Keep Britain Tidy are calling for the public to get involved and pledge to pick up rubbish around their communities, in parks, pavements and beaches.

Paul Elliott, National Highways’ maintenance service manager for the North West, said: “Millions of people travel on National Highways roads like the M56 every day and despite efforts like this to clear it, our network quickly becomes littered from vehicles and unsecure loads.

“Litter is a serious social problem with devastating consequences for wildlife and the environment. Clearing litter from the side of roads also exposes maintenance crews to significant risk.

“Our priority is to keep our roads safe and well maintained, and litter is a huge issue that we are tackling daily. We urge people to save litter for the bin, rather than throwing it on the side of the road.”

Litter also poses a serious safety risk on roads as verges and barriers form corridors where litter and debris build up at an alarming rate, creating a hazardous environment for road users, wildlife and the maintenance crews who clean it up.

Mike Amesbury MP joined the team from National Highways for the litter pick on the M56 Credit: ITV News

Mike Amesbury, MP for Weaver Vale, said: “It was good to be out with the team from National Highways, but it’s a shame they have to be there because of an irresponsible minority of drivers. Not only is the litter unsightly but it’s deadly to mammals and wildlife.

“Workers are having to pick up 60 bags of rubbish every single day. And it’s quite hairy having to do that exercise on motorway verges and slip roads, as well as costing money to the taxpayer that would be better spent elsewhere. 

“The key ask is for people to do the responsible thing and take their rubbish home for recycling or discard it in a litter bin at a service station.”

Nathalie Depledge from Keep Britain Tidy, says their Great British Spring Clean campaign, which runs from 25 March – 10 April, is a great opportunity to make a big difference.

"We believe that every act to protect the environment, no matter how small, makes a difference.  

"And so, when hundreds of thousands of #LitterHeroes all join forces and take the same action at the same time, the difference we make is huge."

Lucy Fell, account director for Amey, said: “We deliver a range of maintenance work on behalf of National Highways to help keep people moving.

"It’s shocking to see the amount of litter on the sides of our roads.

“To litter pick the side verges, we need to install lane closures to ensure safety for our operatives and the travelling public.

"By taking part in the Great British Spring Clean, we’re encouraging everyone to save their rubbish for their bin, reducing the need for our operatives to litter pick and time better spent improving the road network.”

Over the past two years, the RSPCA has responded to nearly 8,000 incidents involving animals and litter.

Gulls, swans, pigeons, geese and foxes are among the worst affected, with others including hedgehogs, deer and even domestic animals also bearing the brunt.

Animals are getting stuck in tin cans, takeaway cartons, plastic bags and caught up in the strings of discarded balloons.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought previously unseen forms of litter onto the streets and open spaces of Britain – disposable face masks and plastic gloves.

Not only does this have a direct impact on wildlife when getting caught in and injured by litter, it also has much further-reaching consequences for the environment.

Geoff Edmond, National Wildlife Lead for the animal charity RSPCA, said “I was out doing a litter pick and found some disposed drink cans. Inside those cans were snails and slugs that couldn’t get out, probably attracted by the alcohol in the cans.

"That’s the food of blackbirds and song thrushes. So, we’re seeing now that litter is actually interrupting the food chain."

Credit: Keep Britain Tidy

National Highways conducts regular research to better understand why people litter from vehicles, and what might change this, before focusing efforts on changing behaviour.

Freda Rashdi, Head of Customer Journeys at National Highways said: “Last year we asked Keep Britain Tidy to undertake some research for us to find out more about who litters on our roads and why.

“There were several focus groups - it’s quite surprising that people do admit to littering for various reasons.

"16% of drivers said that they had disposed of an item of rubbish from a vehicle window.

"The proportion of people who admitted to littering from a vehicle window increased among people with children under the age of four, and those who use our road network more often.

"By far, fruit cores and peels are what most people admit to throwing out their window. This is likely due to the perceived lack of harm from littering these items.

"Cigarette butts are the items most frequently littered, with 12% of the respondents saying they disposed of these from their vehicle window monthly.

"We are now working on targeted interventions to tackle these specific issues.”

Credit: Keep Britain Tidy