IT might only be a mile long, but the walk to work is quite conclusive when it comes to establishing whether Britain has a litter problem. The streets, hedges and gardens between Charminster and the centre of Bournemouth were full of rubbish this morning and they looked no dirtier than when I normally walk through them.

Yet unlike most days, today I’m tallying up the amount of litter I spot on the way – not scouring through shrubs or looking under cars, you understand, just going about my usual walk and noting down what rubbish I see. The results aren’t good.

In this short journey there were nearly 120 discarded cans and plastic bottles, 23 cigarette packets, 28 bits of takeaway packaging and many other items, which bizarrely included an X-rated DVD case, a toothbrush and a bike tyre.

However, I don’t pass a single bin.

Yet this is not a problem confined to the streets of Bournemouth, it’s a nationwide issue. So much so that since 1960 the amount of litter dropped in Britain has increased 500 per cent, costing the tax-payer more than half a billion pounds a year to clean up.

Robin Bawtree, director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “It’s a major problem. When you drive along any road you can see all the litter in the verges – it’s a disgrace.

“People are coming to nice towns in the countryside like those in Dorset and are rather shocked when they see areas covered in litter.”

The CPRE is running a campaign to reduce the amount of litter dropped in Britain, some of which killed or injured 69,000 animals last year and has helped our rat population boom to 60 million.

So what can be done?

With no bin in sight on my walk to work, it’s tempting to argue more are needed. However, this would cost money, and even if there were bins on every corner some people still wouldn’t use them.

“We put bins all through the town centre, but we still have a litter issue,” says Dave Holman, operations manager for street cleansing at Bournemouth council. “They don’t solve the problem.”

So what will?

Robin Bawtree believes stricter enforcement would help.

“We need a few high profile fines for dropping litter,” he said. “It’s a criminal offence to litter and you can receive an on-the-spot fine – but we haven’t got enough authorised people to issue them.”

However, the council is trying to rectify this and employs a small team of officers to warn or fine anyone caught dropping litter.

“We’ve issued more than 100 fixed penalty tickets for littering in the last 12 months – the fine is £75,” says Kevin Ingram, Bournemouth council’s senior environmental civil enforcement officer.

“If we see them dropping litter we advise them of the law and the penalty for doing so – if they pick up the litter they probably get a verbal warning. It depends. We do sometimes give them a fixed-penalty ticket.”

While this might seem like a softly-softly approach, such action has been undermined by other councils fining people for throwing biodegradable apple cores away.

Perhaps some gentle encouragement is also needed?

In many countries consumers get money back for returning empty bottles and cans. I have seen this work well in Sri Lanka, Australia and even at last year’s Isle Of Wight festival – where revellers were given 2p for every cardboard cup they handed to bar staff.

It was also in place in Britain during the sixties, which could explains why there was less litter then.

“You used to get 5p for every empty drinks bottle you returned,” says Robin. “This used to work well and would be effective if reintroduced.”

Robin also believes fast food restaurants and supermarkets can do more to help.

“They are trying, but I think they can do more,” says Robin. “They could put more bins near their premises and cut down on packaging. That’s a major problem, as everything is packaged.”

While a combination of these things could help clean up Britain, if we are going to see a decrease in the amount of litter being dropped, it is attitudes that really need to change.

“We accept it because it’s there,” says Robin. “What we’re trying to do is to get rid of it and attach a bit of a stigma to littering.”