Highways England has revealed it costs around £6m a year to clear litter from its motorways, with more than 150,000 sacks of refuse collected annually at a cost of £40 a sack.
In just three days this year, contractors working for the national highways operator collected more than 3,000 sacks of rubbish, enough to reach the top of The Shard nearly five times over.
The recent spring clean coincided with the national Clean for the Queen initiative to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday in May.
The levels of litter on English motorways cause a threat to wildlife and can lead to flooding if drains become blocked, Highways England said. It also presents a serious hazard for other motorists if it is thrown from moving vehicles and puts workers collecting the rubbish at risk.
Highways England director Robert Castleman said: ‘Our contractors collect vast amounts of litter from motorways every year but we’d much rather they spend their time fixing potholes and carrying out other essential maintenance work.
‘The litter on our roads can cause a hazard to drivers, our workers and wildlife so I’d urge everyone to keep a bag in their car which they can use for rubbish, and then put it in the bin when they get home. We targeted known litter hotspots last month and it would be great if these hotspots remained free of litter in the weeks and months ahead.’
The litter collection costs are built into wider contracts tendered by Highways England and do not represent a specific payment per rubbish sack but an average costing.
Highways England's contracts only cover litter on motorways, with litter collection on strategic road network A roads covered by local authorities.
Highways England has also released a time-lapse video (above) showing the build-up of litter at junction 2 of the M606 near Bradford – a known litter hotspot.