Litter can be a crime magnet
A littered area sends strong signals about behavioural expectations and gives an indication of whether the area is cared for or not. Small expressions of disorder, such as litter, are also an invitation for more serious misbehaviours.
The way whole neighbourhoods look has a strong link to wellbeing - how safe and connected people feel. Research in 2007 found that:
- People living in clean places felt safer, used more leisure facilities in the area, had friends more likely to visit and had a better quality of life all round.
- People are more likely to feel unsafe, real or not, in littered areas.
- Littered areas attract graffiti, bill posting, antisocial behaviour and crime.
Two concepts are useful for understanding the connection between litter and lack of cleanliness and crime.
- The tipping point - The smaller seemingly insignificant features of a locality, such as litter or disrepair, can be the 'tipping point' for greater crimes to occur. Conversely, serious crime can be prevented by stopping smaller disorderly crimes (such as littering) from happening in the first place*.
- The broken window - In a similar vein, research in USA found that a broken window, if left broken, sends a signal that no one cares for the area and no one is in charge. This single broken window results in more being broken, leading to a series of increasingly disorderly and criminal acts**.
The message is that the presence of litter, with no observable action to prevent or deal with it, can lead to crime - from the petty crime of adding more litter, to serious crime.
* Gladwell, M. 2000. The Tipping Point. USA: Little, Brown and Company.
** Wilson, J.Q. and Kelling, G. 1982. Broken Windows: The Police and Neighbourhood Safety. March. Atlantic Monthly. 29-38