Littering over 700 tons of trash along the roads each year
Photo: Anneli Kolås, Norwaste AS
A recent survey of selected road sections reveals that Norwegian roads have a significant litter problem. The results highlight the need for measures to address this challenge and ensure that the roads remain clean and tidy. The survey is the most in-depth study of road litter conducted in Norway.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration maintains and cleans over 10,000 kilometres of national and European roads. The responsibility also includes cleaning, and every spring, extensive spring cleaning is carried out on all road sections.

 We at the Norwegian Public Roads Administration will take our share of the responsibility together with our contractors, including reducing waste from snow poles and other road operations. However, the findings suggest that the majority of the waste along the roads does not originate from businesses but from personal consumption, says Hanne Mørch, environmental advisor at the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

But how much litter is there really along the roads? This has now been investigated by Norwaste in a nationwide survey. The project is funded by the Retail Environmental Fund and is a collaboration between Norwaste, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, and Mesta. The results in the new Norwaste report show that approximately 60 million items are littered annually, amounting to about 716 tons. This equates to each person in Norway littering 11 items every year. Particularly concerning is the large volume of plastic waste. Annually, 48 million plastic items are littered, equivalent to 300 tons. There are clear indications that the amount of littering correlates with traffic, with high-traffic roads experiencing a greater incidence of littering.

It's disheartening to see such high levels of littering, especially plastic littering, occurring along roadsides. The Retail Environmental Fund is committed to supporting initiatives that clean up and prevent littering, and we hope that the results of the project can help raise awareness about land-based littering. states Cecilie Lind, Managing Director of the Retail Environmental Fund.

Table: Top 10 most common findings by quantity
Caption: Images of the most common findings by weight

It's evident that the majority of litter along roadsides stems from personal consumption, with a smaller portion related to businesses. Tobacco products represent the largest source of litter in terms of quantity, followed by take-away packaging in both cardboard and plastic. Specifically, plastic items such as cigarette filters, snus pouches, snack wrappers, and other foil packaging are among the most common items littering the roads. Additionally, unidentifiable plastic film and plastic parts from vehicles contribute to the littering problem. With the increasing use of plastic in car manufacturing, we can expect this type of littering to continue to rise.

We pick up packaging and beverage cans daily along the roads. We recognize the description of littering along the roadsides well and are concerned about the trend, says project manager Marianne Røsland at Mesta, who has assisted as a project partner.

Cans litter more than bottles.

In recent years, littering of metal cans has received more attention in Norway. Littering of metal cans can have significant consequences, especially if the cans end up in hay mowers used to cut grass for feed. The cans are shredded by the mower into small, razor-sharp pieces that can have fatal consequences if ingested by livestock. In 2022, according to livestock control, 1200 cows were reported to have ingested foreign objects (including metal fragments) through their feed. 

The project has uncovered that cans have a higher littering risk than bottles. Similarly, foreign beverage packaging without a deposit has a higher littering risk compared to beverage packaging with a Norwegian deposit. In areas with significant cross-border shopping, there is also a higher occurrence of beverage bottles and cans without a deposit. It has also been identified that certain types of beverages are littered more, namely energy drinks and beer cans. 

Are our roads as littered as the beaches?

In 2020 the EU Commission published a report which determined that to keep the sea and beaches clean, there should not be more than 20 items per 100 meters. At the initial measurement along the roads, there were an average of 50 items per meter at the first survey, and on one stretch, there were 200 items per 100 meters. It is recognized that land-based littering affects marine littering, and the results from this project demonstrate the need to address the issue of land-based littering, especially littering along roadsides. 

What can be done about littering?

In Norway, littering is prohibited, but enforcement is challenging, and few are held accountable for their littering actions. It's difficult to trace who has littered. In the UK, the company Littercam have developed a technology to capture and identify litterers. Using artificial intelligence to detect littering, they utilize the same infrastructure as speed cameras with cameras to capture images when littering occurs and identify the litterer. If caught, fines can be sent to the vehicle owner in the same manner as speeding tickets.

The report highlights various reasons for littering. For example, there is a trend of higher littering on road sections near retail outlets. The report concludes that there is a need for more insight into the causes of littering to assess why certain road sections have a higher littering risk than others. By uncovering the reasons, it will be easier to develop measures against littering. 

Photo: Ine Geitung, Norwaste AS
Producer responsibility

Norway is obligated to implement extended producer responsibility for single-use plastics in line with the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. This means that producers are responsible for their products even when they become waste and cover the costs of cleaning up litter from single-use plastics. The Norwegian Environment Agency has drafted a proposal for regulations, which is currently under review by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. In this project, single-use plastics (as defined in the directive) accounted for over half of the littered items along roadsides. The Norwegian Environment Agency's proposal limits producers' responsibility for cost coverage to municipalities' expenses, meaning that the costs of cleaning up litter along county and national roads would not be covered by producers. 

The report is available here (only in Norwegian)