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Litter: key trends, policy and legislation in England

Published Friday, February 12, 2016

A House of Commons Library Briefing Paper examining trends in litter and the policy and legislation in place to address litter problems in England.

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The focus of this note is England, although there is some limited information about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. More detailed briefings on the devolved administrations can be provided to Members and their staff upon request to the Library.

What's the problem?

Litter is perhaps the most significant low-level environmental crime affecting the UK. Levels of litter in England have improved slightly (by 4 percentage points) since 2001/02 but it is estimated that litter costs the taxpayer between £717 and £850 million a year to clear up.

Parliamentary scrutiny

Recent Parliamentary scrutiny of litter policy and legislation has been carried out by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee and the issues are scheduled to be debated by MPs in Westminster Hall on 25 February 2016. There is also an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tidy Britain which examines litter issues in the context of local environmental quality.

Litter trends

There is no official statutory definition of litter but it is most commonly assumed to include materials that are improperly discarded. The four most common types of litter found in 2014/15 were: smokers’ materials; confectionery packs; non-alcoholic drinks related litter and fast food related litter. This Briefing Paper outlines how litter is monitored and what trends can be drawn from the surveys that have been undertaken. National trends are considered, as well as regional comparisons and littering according to land use and litter type.

How is litter dealt with?

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs 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 its executive agency, the Highways Agency.

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 has announced that it will consult on proposals to increase the level of fixed penalty fines later in 2016.

Community Protection Notices can also be used to address continuing or persistent littering and replace previous control measures such as Litter Clearing Notices and Street Litter Control Notices.

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.

Related information

This note does not cover fly-tipping, information on which is available from a House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Fly tipping—the illegal dumping of waste. More information on the plastic bag charge is available in the Library Briefing Paper on the 5p Carrier Bag Charge.

Commons Briefing papers SN06984

Authors: Sara Priestley; Michael Everett

Topics: Anti-social behaviour, Waste management

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