An average 83 bags of litter are collected on each mile of motorway every year, according to the latest statistics from Highways England. The data, released by HE – which is responsible for operating and improving England’s 1800-mile motorway network – shows it costs around £40 per bag to clean up, on top of the hours of congestion when litter causes incidents.

In the run up to the Great British Spring Clean, which took place between March 3-5, Highways England revealed exactly what rubbish drivers have to put up with when people throw bottles, cups, half-eaten burgers, cigarettes, newspapers and random items from their vehicles.

The data showed:

  • Over 150,000 sacks of litter are collected by Highways England contractors every year
  • That’s 411 bags every day
  • Or 83 bags per mile of Highways England motorway network
  • At £40 per bag – roughly the same cost as fixing a pothole – it’s not cheap. The cost is due to the additional challenges of litter-picking on fast roads without pedestrian access
  • Hundreds of lives are put at risk in collisions caused by items in the carriageway, or items that land on windscreens
  • Thousands of punctures are caused by sharp items
  • Litter causes a threat to wildlife and leads to flooding if drains become blocked
  • It also puts workers at risk who are collecting the rubbish from the side of busy motorways
  • A plastic bottle, if not collected, can take 450 years to biodegrade.

“Cleaning motorways is expensive and time-consuming, and it is the innocent drivers who suffer,” said HE customer service director, Melanie Clarke. “The money needed to clear litter comes out of their pockets and they are the ones who suffer the consequences if an item of litter causes a puncture, or a collision which closes a carriageway.

“The statistics show what a tax littering imposes on drivers who would not dream of such behaviour.

“We constantly have teams out cleaning our roads,” she added. “For the Great British Spring Clean, we’re encouraging all road users to dispose of their litter properly and improve the experience of all drivers who use our roads.”