Eliminating litter needs Government leadership

Eliminating litter needs Government leadership

Recently a spate of press articles has appeared with stories of local authorities taking tougher action on those who throw litter out of vehicles.  Coupled with a recent increase in the enforcement of fines this is all very encouraging and welcomed.  Litter thrown out of vehicles is both dangerous and expensive to clear and of course with foodservice packaging being so well branded gives excuse to legislators to introduce more laws in the name of litter, despite the relatively low percentage of litter due to foodservice packaging (2.9% nationally). The ability to issue on the spot fines up to £80.00 and ultimately £2,500 upon conviction to those who commit a crime that damages the street environment has been an option to local authorities since 2005 under the Clean Neighbourhoods Act. Fines issued increased from just over 700 in 1997 to almost 64,000 in 2014.   This equates to an average of about 150 per council which in reality means a small number of councils issuing a large number of fines and the majority not issuing any.

The FPA is committed to reducing litter and we believe fines are part of the solution along with communication targeted at those who litter and more and better bins in the streets.  While Councils dispensing fines insist their objective is in keeping streets clean it is clear that some councils employing private enforcement companies are being perceived by the public as merely fund raising for what is perceived by some to be a trivial offence.  Litter fines should be used to discourage the worst offenders from dropping litter and as a key part of a campaign to ensure littering is perceived by the public to be as anti social as not picking up dog pooh or not wearing a seat belt. I wonder if these private enforcers would be happy with a business  objective of their revenues dwindling to zero because no one is dropping litter.

The spirit within which fines are enforced is important if littering is to end. The spirit being to have all of society caring for their street environment. Therefore in the short-term fine revenue should be reinvested in more enforcement officers, better and more bins and communication such as the campaign being run in Villiers Street by the charity Hubbub.

The UK litter lobby is very diverse and not all are in agreement with each other. This division is frankly a luxury and we all need to pull together and be more consistent with our messaging and campaigning. From discussions with foodservice operators it is clear we need leadership at Government level. Addressing the Communities and Local Government Inquiry earlier this year at least took the idea of the foodservice industry paying for litter off the agenda but we need to be proactive in bringing all those with an interest in achieving litter reduction together including those non packaging sectors accounting for the majority of litter otherwise this dangerous prospect will arise again. It is interesting that in some local authorities nearly all the fines issued were for cigarette butts. Since any type of litter attracts other litter the time has come to work with all parties and provide a unified forum to  Government and tackle this unacceptable public behaviour. Watch this space.