Northern Ireland litter’s threat to ecosystem revealed

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Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, an environmental charity dedicated to creating a healthy environment, resilient communities and thriving places, has released a report funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), that demonstrates that litter remains at concerning levels in NI – damaging our forests, parks, beaches and streets. 

The Litter Composition Report estimates 1,294,164 items are littered on our streets at any one time, weighing approximately 28 tonnes and costing the public purse £45 million annually in Northern Ireland.

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According to the report, a significant amount of the litter found contained plastic – 71% is made up of cigarette butts, plastic bottles, confectionary and crisp wrappers.

Plastic never breaks down and forms harmful micro-plastics which enter our ecosystem. 



The second most common category was metals at 14.5%, which was mostly made up of non-alcoholic drinks packaging at 9.7%.

Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots stated, “My Department is actively engaged in protecting and valuing our precious landscape, so it can be enjoyed by everyone. 

“Those who engage in littering are not valuing our landscape and these actions have a negative impact that is felt across Northern Ireland. 

“This Litter Composition Report shows that the amount of litter in our environment and entering the eco-system is still a real issue, and the findings will help to identify ways to address this.



“My Department, in partnership with Councils and NGOs, such as Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, is using a combined approach of legislation, education, awareness and enforcement to tackle and improve the litter issue in Northern Ireland. 

He added, “We are also working towards Northern Ireland’s first Environment Strategy which will play a key role in setting Northern Ireland’s environmental priorities for coming decades.”

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and DAERA commissioned the independent litter compositional analysis to alert both the general public and the business community to the seriousness of the situation – no similar study has been conducted in Northern Ireland to date. 

Taking place between January – March 2019, the report, delivered by RPS Consulting Engineers, found 10,626 items across 1,108 various transects. 



The charity, which works with government, organisations and individuals to prevent costly littering and the resulting environmental pollution, believes that the threat from litter has never been higher.

Dr Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful commented, “This is the first ever NI Litter Composition Report – and the root problems are clear. 

“We need to tackle the fact that one in three people openly admit to littering. We must also share the responsibility for litter that is being created through increased ‘convenience’ packaging,”  he added.

With the forthcoming European Union (EU) Directives on litter, and UK legislation anticipated to follow close behind, it is predicted a greater responsibility for litter will be put on producers to cover the clean-up costs of their littered products. 

To find out more contact Single-Use Plastic Coordinator Claire Hudson at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful on 07785 663 604 or visit




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