Good riddance to bad rubbish?

Steeles Law Associate Jean Parkinson and Trainee Solicitor Laura Tanguay discuss the new Private Member’s Bill on littering.

A new Private Member’s Bill on roadside littering was heard in the House of Lords last week. The aim of the Bill is to ‘close the loophole’ in the existing provisions and enable councils to hold someone accountable when litter is thrown from a vehicle.

At present, it is a criminal offence under sections 87 and 88 of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990 (as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005 which includes within the definition of ‘litter’ smoking related litter and chewing gum) to throw litter from a vehicle. Those found guilty of the offence can receive an £80 fixed penalty fine from the council, or a maximum fine of £2,500 for more serious offences tried in the Magistrates Court.

There is, however, a serious evidential difficultly in proving which particular person in the car was responsible for throwing the litter, and consequently, these provisions are rather ineffective in practice.

Because of this, the London Local Authorities Act 2012 was enacted this year to enable councils in Greater London to issue civil penalties for littering to the registered owner of the vehicle, thereby removing the evidential burden of the existing criminal provisions. The penalties operate in the same way that speeding fines, seat belt, and parking offences do, with the owner of the vehicle automatically liable but able to nominate the guilty individual to bear the penalty.

The proposed new Bill seeks to extend this civil penalty to local authorities across England, allowing those councils outside of London to benefit from the provisions, thereby removing the current anomaly and rounding the legislative circle.

The new Bill has the support of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), with CPRE Stop the Drop Campaign Manager, Samantha Harding, stating, “if people think they can toss litter from their cars, councils should have an effective way to fine them and that’s what this bill delivers.”

Clearly, littering is of widespread concern, not only because of the associated harm to our countryside and wildlife, but also because of the huge cost implications to Local Authorities in removing the rubbish from our streets. Green Flag reports that the cost to taxpayers of clearing up litter on the roadside is £850 million a year. Similarly, Keep Britain Tidy estimates that over 30 million tonnes of litter are collected from our streets every year at a cost of £885 million per year.

For further information on this topic, please contact Jean Parkinson on 020 7421 1720 or

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