House of Commons Library

Litter: key trends, policy and legislation

Published Friday, July 21, 2017

A House of Commons Library Briefing Paper examining trends in litter and the policy and legislation in place to address litter problems in England. Information for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is also included.

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What's the problem?

Litter is perhaps one of the most significant low-level environmental crimes affecting the UK. There is no official statutory definition of litter but it is most commonly assumed to include materials that are improperly discarded. The four most littered items found in 2014/15 were: smokers’ materials; confectionery packs; non-alcoholic drinks related litter and fast food related litter.

Levels of litter in England have hardly improved in over a decade and 81% of people have said they are angry and frustrated by the amount of litter in the country. Local government net expenditure on street cleaning (which includes but is not limited to clearing litter) in 2015/16 was £683 million.

How is litter dealt with?

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) takes the policy lead on litter, but the Department for Communities and Local Government also plays a role since the responsibility for clear up and financial cost of litter is primarily borne by local councils.  The Department for Transport also plays a role through the government company, Highways England (formerly the Highways Agency).

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee published a Report on Litter and fly-tipping in England on 14 March 2015. The Government Response to the Committee’s Report was published on 4 December 2015 and included a commitment to publish a national litter strategy. The Litter Strategy for England was published in April 2017 and contains a comprehensive overview of litter in context, as well as a number of commitments from Government on how it will address the range of associated issues.

Littering is a criminal offence with a maximum fine of £2,500. Fixed penalty notices (between £50-80) are also often used in lieu of prosecution in the courts. The Government consulted on proposals to increase the level of fixed penalty fines in the first half of 2017 and is analysing the responses. Community Protection Notices can also be used to address continuing or persistent littering. Members of the public are also able to apply directly to the courts for litter abatement orders if they feel that a litter authority is not fulfilling its duty to keep land clear of litter.

In London, there is also specific legislation which allows local authorities to issue civil penalties against the registered keeper of a vehicle for littering from the vehicle. The Government consulted on extending these powers across England in the first half of 2017 and is currently analysing the responses.

Related information

As part of waste policy, littering is a devolved issue. This Briefing Paper covers England only unless otherwise specified. Resources for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are set out in Section 5 and more detailed responses can be provided on request by Members or their staff.

Littering is not the same as fly-tipping. Information on fly-tipping is available from the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Fly tipping—the illegal dumping of waste.

Information on the plastic bag charge is available in the Library Briefing Paper on the 5p Carrier Bag Charge.

Commons Briefing papers SN06984

Author: Sara Priestley

Topics: Anti-social behaviour, Waste management

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