UK motorists are being urged to “clean up their act” and stop littering as part of the Great British September Clean. The calls come from Highways England, the government-run company in charge of the nation’s motorways and major A-roads, which says it picks up more than 200,000 bags of litter from the roadside every year.

The calls come as an autumn clean-up operation swings into action. Charity Keep Britain Tidy normally organises the Great British Spring Clean, but that has been moved to September after the coronavirus pandemic thrust the country into lockdown. As part of the scheme, the government has already promised to spend more on cleaning graffiti from UK roads.

Now, though, Highways England and Keep Britain Tidy are asking drivers not to leave their litter by the roadside. The two organisations say “unsightly” litter presents a “serious safety risk” and poses a risk to wildlife and the environment.

“The simple fact is that if litter wasn’t dropped in the first place it wouldn’t need to be picked up,” said Highways England’s head of customer and operational requirements, Freda Rashdi. “Litter is not only unsightly and a risk to wildlife and the environment, but it also puts our workers at risk collecting it and it diverts time and money that could be better spent on improving the network.

“Litter is an important national issue and we’re pleased to be able to support the Great British September Clean arranging extra litter picks to coincide with the campaign and by urging people to take their litter home.”

Meanwhile Richard McIlwain, the deputy chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, said littering from vehicles was one of the “worst forms of littering”.

“Rubbish, dangerously thrown from vehicles and left to rot on our roads, is a national disgrace,” he said. “This degrading litter isn’t just unsightly it damages wildlife which has taken refuge along these valuable wildlife corridors that are currently punctuated by chucked food and drink packaging and millions of flicked cigarette butts. That’s why we welcome Highways England getting involved in this year’s Great British September Clean and see this as an important step in tackling arguably one of Britain’s worst forms of littering.

“Their work clearing up the mess left by mindless road-users is costly, puts workers lives at risk and remains a never-ending task. That’s why we want to use this campaign as a springboard to a longer-term partnership that will increase campaigning to raise awareness that stops people tossing litter from vehicles once and for all.”

M25 London Orbital Motorway near Junction 18 in Hertfordshire UK