Research questions and methodology

In order to investigate the litter problem in the Northeast of England, we undertook a mixed-methods research project. Our project aimed to answer the following questions:

  • 1 What is the nature and extent of litter at four observation sites (lone or group littering)?
  • 2 What are the demographics of litterers (gender, estimated age)?
  • 3 Does sense of ownership or space affect whether a person litters (resident or visitor)?

Our project consisted of non-participant covert observations and structured interviews at the four Northeast England locations described above: Hexham city centre in Northumberland, Newcastle city centre and Cullercoats Bay and the Rising Sun Country Park, which are both located in North Tyneside. These four locations were identified as areas with urban locals and tourists, and village/rural locals and tourists (see Table 38.1), thus providing a distinction in terms of size of the public space and the typical user. We recorded incidents of littering at the sites including: who littered (gender, estimated age, alone or in a group), what the rubbish was or consisted of, and any other qualitative information about the incident. Five hours of observation were undertaken at each of the four locations. The observations were recorded discreetly so as not to attract the attention of those being observed. In addition, ten interviewees over the age of 16 at each location (a total of 40 interviews) were randomly selected and asked to complete a survey and questionnaire, as well as to answer five questions. The interviewees were a convenience sample who may or may not have littered. All of the authors received University Ethical Approval prior to any fieldwork being conducted. The findings by research questions are below.

Table 38.1 People who thought litter was a problem in their area.










Newcastle upon Tyne



Rising Sun




Nature and extent of littering

In relation to the first research question, when exploring the nature and extent of litter at four observation sites, we observed that on arrival to all destinations and on all occasions, there were noticeable amounts of litter already present on the streets and public spaces. We noted, however, that even though there was litter in the town centre, Hexham, in general, is a very' tidy and clean place compared with the other areas and has many rubbish bins located around the town centre and recreational parks. On the first day of observation in Hexham, the local authority council workers (who are tasked with picking up rubbish and recycling) had not long before emptied the public bins. There was a council grass cutter in the main recreation park, which was one of the primary observation spots in the town. Even on the second observation visit, which occurred on a weekend in September 2016, Hexham still had a clean and tidy feel to it. On the other hand, Cullercoats Bay—a village in North Tyneside adjacent to the North Sea—had on both visits more litter dotted around the place than Hexham, ranging from beer cans and fizzy pop cans to random socks, broken glass bottles and cigarette ends peppered around by the shops, but also on the bay. Furthermore, like Hexham, Cullercoats has rubbish bins that are located around the village and bay.

Newcastle upon Tyne, which, as noted earlier, has more people circulating through the city than the other two boroughs, has, like the other two areas, many bins located around the city. Even though on both visits to Newcastle upon Tyne we observed that there were council workers picking up litter from the streets, we also noted that there was an abundance of litter dotted around the city, ranging from hot drinks cups and hot food wrappers to travel tickets and carrier bags. The Rising Sun Country Park, which is situated behind Battle Hill—a suburb of Wallsend in North Tyneside—is a main walkway from the suburb to the main Asda superstore. It is necessary to point out, however, that the Rising Sun Country Park is maintained not just by the local authority, but also by the Rising Sun Farm Trust, a private company with a charitable status (Rising Sun Fann 2015). The Rising Sun Country Park had more litter present on arrival than the other three locations combined. On entry to the southern entrance of the Rising Sun Country Park, we found the grounds covered with litter: plastic bottles and cans, broken glass bottles, various cardboard boxes, Asda carrier bags, McDonald’s wrappers, broken garden or house bricks, cut grass in a black bag, builder’s rubbish, dog faeces bags hung on trees or left by the side of walkways, cigarette packets, scratch cards and Asda trollies. We observed that there are not many bins situated around the country park.

The amount of litter found on the ground at the Rising Sun Country Park upon arrival was consistent with the amount of littering we observed from the country park users. For example, the most common objects dropped were sweet wrappers, followed by drinks cans, hot food wrappers and hot drinks cups. We also observed several incidents of dog fouling despite signs at the official entrance of the park stating the penalties of not cleaning up after one’s dog. In addition, we noticed that after picking up the dog faeces with a bag, some people would then proceed to hang the filled bag on a nearby tree and walk away. Interviews revealed that this odd gesture was an expression of frustration to protest the lack of bins situated around the country park. We observed, however, that even though there were not as many bins around the country park as in the other observation sites, there are dog waste bins at every entrance.

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