The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on urban street litter in South Africa
datasetposted on 09.10.2020, 14:10 by Peter G Ryan, Kyle Maclean, Eleanor Weideman
The lockdowns instigated to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique opportunity to assess how restrictions on human activity affect street litter. We recorded daily litter arrival rates for 50 days in two South African cities from the time of strictest lockdown through two successive easings in regulations. The strict lockdown had no marked impact on litter composition, which was dominated by convenience foods and beverages (29% by number, 34% by mass) and tobacco products (33% by number, 3% by mass). The ban on the sale of tobacco products during the lockdown did not greatly reduce the number of cigarette butts and associated packaging. Vehicle parts accounted for <1% of litter items (2% by mass) whereas household waste spilled from bins prior to or during collection accounted for 3% of litter items (14% by mass). Street litter loads decreased roughly by a factor of three during the strict lockdown. The increase in litter was gradual, suggesting a reduction in compliance with regulations as the lockdown continued. Our results show a clear link between human activity levels and littering.