Clean Britain Report: The UK’s cleanest towns & cities


Posted by Ed on 2nd September 2019

Clean Britain Report by

Have you ever thought about the impact of bad air quality or waste management on your town? What are the knock-on effects on domestic tourism? Would knowing how green and clean your chosen destination is encourage you to book a holiday there? Perhaps negative feedback online about the poor state of a holiday resort would persuade you to look elsewhere? Bad waste management, poor water and air quality could well have a negative impact on local tourism in UK towns and cities.

To help, we’ve compiled the Clean Britain Report to give a picture of what our nation’s towns and cities are doing right, or wrong, so far, to make them better places to visit or live in.

Time for action

The demonstrations in London by various environmental groups, led by Extinction Rebellion, raised awareness about the slow destruction of our planet on a colossal international level.  Now is not the time for talking about the future; it’s time to start acting in the present. How we go about creating a cleaner, eco-friendlier and more responsible impact on our planet is an urgent issue for all of us now.

It’s time to pay more than lip service to this man-made global crisis and begin the fight on a grassroots level. And by grassroots, we mean house-by-house, town-by-town, and city-by-city.

About the Clean Britain Report

Our Clean Britain Report shows which towns and cities are the cleanest and dirtiest depending on their commitments to being greener and more sustainable. Local councils have been charged with coming up with action plans to aid improvement on a massive scale. The shock primer in this was the revelation that London had reached its legal air pollution limit for 2019 in a single month, and that living next to a busy road in the capital is equal to smoking ten cigarettes a day. Such worrying statistics bring home the need for action, as we may be the last generations to save the planet before we are fixed onto a path of no return.

The Clean Britain Report is based on a number of factors to determine the best and worst-performing towns. The rankings are defined by:

• tonnage of recyclable waste received at local collection centres

• air quality measured in units of PM2.5 (particulate matter in micrograms per cubic metre of air) – which includes emissions from vehicle exhausts, burns, industry and agriculture

• water quality, measured on how potable and safe from contamination it is from outside sources per number of bodies of water in the borough

• the number of social media posts published containing relevant keywords like climate change, eco-friendly, sustainability, green, and more

Below are all the towns we investigated ranked – you can also toggle what the towns are ranked by, by clicking the headings of each column.

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Narberth tops the UK’s cleanest and greenest towns

In our research, we discovered that the cleanest towns included Narbeth (Pembrokeshire), Penicuik (Midlothian), and Didcot (Oxfordshire). Didcot aims to be a fully-functional garden town by 2023 – this means that there will be green links between important amenities, safe cycle routes, an increase in accessible green areas, more allotments (for sustainable living), and a protected greenbelt. It’s one of many pioneering towns that are playing an active part in ensuring there will be a better tomorrow for future residents.

The cleanest towns and cities in the UK

Since the results were collated, Sunderland, who is listed as the least clean town, has developed a clean-up programme, underway since May 2019. You can read the story here.

Darlington Borough Council in the North East of England, which also comes near the bottom of our report, is another shining example of turning it all around. Their ‘Our Streets’ appeal challenges individuals, families, schools, businesses and community groups to come together to keep their neighbourhoods clean and tidy.

The council and the community combatted the problem in 2019 by:

  • Embarking on organised litter picks
  • Setting up active response teams to tackle fly tipping
  • Organising town wide campaigns like LitterFreeDurham and the Darlington Big Spring Clean

A combination of 5000 bags of rubbish, 360 litter picks, 5 tons of bulky waste, and over 7.5 thousand volunteer hours were logged. That’s people power, people!

Didcot leads the way on recycling

Do you know how to divide up your recyclable waste, when it gets collected and what gets recycled? Well, it’s your local council’s responsibility to raise awareness on a household level. Which areas have the best facilities and the most effective disposal routines?

The best UK towns and cities for recycling and composting

In our report, Didcot did well again and came out top, with Birmingham ranking at the bottom. Towns in the south of Wales on the whole also did especially well.

Scotland ranks top for air quality

So, what are Great Britain’s towns and cities doing to combat ambient air pollution? Cycle to work schemes, cleaner public transport links, car shares, energy-efficient housing, power generation and park-and-rides are just some of the initiatives put in place. Other methods include conserving energy at home, good car engine and machinery maintenance (leak reduction), composting, and burning waste responsibly.

Towns in Scotland rank especially well when it comes to the quality of their air, with Penicuik (near Edinburgh) at the top of the leaderboard.

The UK towns and cities with the best air quality

Good air quality is important to our general health as well as the decent upkeep of our habitats.  The WHO (World Health Organisation) continues to raise awareness and to advise on matters pertaining to ambient and household pollution.

Air quality is measured by the amount of particulate matter in the air (PM 2.5). Particulate matter comes from both manmade and natural sources that can include concentrations of sea salt, soot, wind driven dusts and minerals generated from construction and industry, trace metals, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone. The measured air components range in size from a few nanometres in diameter (virus) to around 100 micrometres (100 µm, human hair width).

West Wales has the best water quality

Swansea in South Wales leads the way for the cleanest water, with the remainder of West Wales as well as the North West performing well in this area. At the other end of the scale, towns in Central Scotland rank low for water quality.

The UK towns and cities with the best water quality

Good water quality is vital. In Great Britain, we tend to take its availability for granted but its management is costly and difficult.  Public health must be protected, and good water quality sustains basic ecological processes – whole ecosystems are supported through natural access to water like trees, vegetation, wildlife, fish, birdlife, farmland and wetlands. Managing industrial and agricultural run-off responsibly is also key to a healthy local water supply. Well-maintained reservoirs, sewerage and pipes are also impactful factors in ensuring that our local water supply is clean, potable and safe.

Stockbridge is home to the most advocates for a clean Britain

The multi-media machine is a vital cog when raising awareness and spreading the word about our environmental obligations. It’s commonplace to rely on our phones and PCs for online updates and news. With instant news at our fingertips 24 hours a day, which of our towns is the best at taking advantage of our constant online presence?

Stockbridge, in Edinburgh, loves social media whilst the powers that be in Stoke-on-Trent need to look into the harnessing of the might of social media. Stockbridge shared the most social posts on issues such as green spaces and air quality in proportion to their population.

The UK's greenest towns on social media

We have a long way to go but now the wheels are finally turning in the right direction all across the country. Don’t just wait for your local council to make their moves apparent though – there are many ways you can help make the planet cleaner on a personal level.  Join a community group today and find out how you can get involved.

Why we all need to do our bit

This is where you come in, as our local leaders can only do so much. Their resources are sometimes limited so it’s imperative that we all get involved. This can be done by taking an active interest in what your borough council do to combat litter and other environmental factors that have a negative effect on your area.  Read their objectives online and find out how they operate.

You’ll be surprised at how many people put their rubbish out on the wrong day or too late, only for the seagulls to go to work on the full bin bags – dispersing waste everywhere.  How can you dispose of less? Do you separate your food waste? There are plenty of small steps you can take to live more sustainably and make your town a nicer place.

Take action on your next holiday

Why not do your bit to help create a Clean Britain on your next UK holiday? Take a look at our blog on Sustainable Swaps for Travellers for plenty of eco-friendly tips to try while you’re away. Browse our eco-friendly collection of cottages for green living while on holiday. 

Our eco-friendly cottages

Sources, methodology and full data

If you want to find out how we came up with the Clean Britain Report, see the full data table, list of sources, definitions and our methodology.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.