What does the law say about littering?

As we explained in our article “Litter: its impact on local communities”, litter affects how places look and are perceived, how safe and happy people feel living in an area, and how attractive it is to workers, visitors and existing new business investors.

Litter has an effect on residents, on people’s health, on the economy, on business, on tourism, on crime and anti-social behaviour, and of course, on the environment. Not only is the effect of litter serious, but it is also widespread. 62% of people in England are believed to drop litter, and 99% of streets in town centres have cigarette litter. It is therefore not surprising that there are a range of laws in place to try to prevent litter and keep our environment clean.

This article looks at what some of those key laws are, explaining what powers local authorities and others have to tackle litter.

Key legislation concerning littering

The main piece of legislation covering littering and refuse is Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990. Crucially, section 87 of the EPA states that it is a criminal offence for a person to drop, throw down, leave or deposit litter in a public place. It carries a maximum fine of £2,500 and can be tried in a magistrate’s court.

Some sections of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 were updated, extended and amended by Part 3 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005. This act extended and widened enforcement powers to help tackle problems such as leaving litter, dog fouling, fly-tipping and graffiti. It also aims to force businesses, private land owners, occupiers and managers to recognise their role in contributing to the quality and appearance of the local authority. Under this act, both duty bodies and citizens have rights to take legal action to get areas cleaned up.

To view the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990 please visit http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/43/contents

To view the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005 please visit http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/16/contents

What is classed as litter?

Part IV of the EPA defines litter, and it has been further clarified by Section 27 of the CNEA. This explicitly states that litter includes smoking related litter such as cigarettes, cigars and similar products, as well as discarded chewing gum and bubble gum. The definition of litter is non-exhaustive however, and even though these have always fallen within the definition of litter, the CNEA simply aims to provide clarification.

Who is responsible for enforcing the law regarding litter?

Local authorities, the police and other primary litter authorities can prosecute people who leave litter. Part IV of the EPA contains powers and duties to enable certain bodies to manage litter and associated environmental issues on the land for which they are responsible. These are known as duty bodies as they are bodies with a legal duty to clear litter and refuse (including dog faeces) from relevant land and highways. Section 89 of the EPA states that they must, as far as is practicable, ensure that this land is kept free of litter and refuse.

Relevant land is:

  • Land which is open to the air on at least one side
  • Land which is under the direct control of the authority
  • Land to which the public is permitted or entitled to have access
  • Track and track sides on railway land near stations and in urban areas which the public is not permitted or entitled to have access to

Duty bodies include:

  • Principal litter authorities
  • Appropriate crown authorities
  • Designated statutory undertakers
  • Governing bodies of designated educational institutions
  • Local authorities in respect of any relevant highway for which they are responsible
  • The Secretary of State in respect of any trunk road that is a special road and any other relevant highway or road for which they are responsible
  • Parish or community councils

Parish or community councils were added following an amendment made by the CNEA.

Prosecuting offenders is part of local authorities and other duty bodies’ legal duty to keep land free of litter and refuse. The aim is to prevent areas becoming littered in the first place, as local authorities have to clear litter and refuse from the relevant land that they are responsible for. This includes streets, parks, playground, pedestrianised areas and tourist beaches. They must also keep highways clean. Educational establishments such as schools, colleges and universities have a legal duty to clear litter and refuse from their own land. Litter authorities can authorise individuals other than their own employees to issue fixed penalty notices on their behalf.

There is a Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse which applies to England only. This is a practical guide on how to carry out these duties. It was most recently updated in November 2006 following the implementation of the amendments made to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005.

To view the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/218806/cop-litter.pdf

What are Fixed Penalty Notices?

Section 88 of the EPA previously allowed for people who had committed the offence of leaving litter to be given a fixed penalty fine of £50. This however was amended by Section 19 of the CNEA to allow a principal litter authority to specify what the amount should be for a fixed penalty for a litter offence. If the principal litter authority does not specify an amount, it is set at £75.

Fixed penalty notices (FPNs) are tickets that are given to offenders “on the spot”. Authorised officers issuing a FPN can request the name and the address of the person who has dropped litter. If that person fails to provide these details, or provides false of inaccurate details, then it is an offence and can result in a maximum fine of £1,000. Offenders have 14 days to pay if given a FPN.

Since the CNEA extended the definition of “litter authorities” to include parish or community councils, they have also been allowed to issue FPNs. However, there are certain conditions, such as training and competency, which an individual must meet before they can be authorised by a parish or community council.

Section 119 of the Local Government Act 2003 allows local authorities which have a comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) rating of “good” or “excellent” to keep money raised through FPNs for both littering and dog fouling, rather than having to give it to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. This acts as an incentive for local councils to enforce the law, thus making sure that local communities are kept tidy and free of litter and dog mess.

To view the Local Government Act 2003 please visit http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/26/contents

What places do littering laws cover?

Section 18 of the CNEA makes it an offence to drop litter anywhere in the open air in the area of a principal litter authority, regardless of the ownership of the land. This is an extension to what was previously set out in the EPA. Previously, if a person dropped litter as they were walking along the pavement they would have been fined. However, if they threw it over the hedge into a private garden they could not be fined. The CNEA removed that loophole so that the offence of littering now applies to all places that are open to the air, including both private and public land. It also extended the offence of dropping litter to include bodies of water such as rivers or lakes. It is now therefore an offence to drop litter anywhere above the low water mark, which means it is an offence to drop litter on beaches.

What are Street Litter Control Notices?

Street Litter Control Notices tackle street litter that has been generated by the activities of adjacent commercial premises. They require the owners or occupiers of these businesses to take steps to both minimise and clear up any litter that has come about as a result of their commercial or retail activities. This mainly relates to dealing with food and drink packaging being discarded by people eating on the move, for example if there were lots of polystyrene burger boxes, cardboard chip pockets, soft drinks cups and paper bags in the area outside of a fast food restaurant.

Section 21 of the CNEA extended the types of business covered by these notices to include vehicles, stalls and other moveable structures used for selling in the street. Section 21 has also made the process of serving these notices simpler, and makes it an immediate offence if the requirements of the notice are not complied with. Previously the authority would have had to seek an order from the magistrates’ court.

The Street Litter Control Notices (England) (Amendment) Order 2007 extended Street Litter Control Notices to cover “all pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and other eating and drinking venues, outside which smoking related materials and other types of litter may be dropped in the streets by customers”. It also gave local authorities the power to place greater responsibility on the owners or occupiers of these business premises to clean up cigarette ends and other dropped items in the area immediately around them and to install appropriate facilities for disposing of them.

What are Litter Clearing Notices?

Litter Clearing Notices can be served on all types of land, whether that land is private or public. They enable the principal litter authority to require the owner or occupier of land that has litter on it to clear it, and also allow the principal litter authority to refuse to clear it. Litter Clearing Notices also give principal litter authorities the power to specify to what standard the land must be cleared, and prescribe steps to prevent it from happening again. Failure to comply with a Litter Clearing Notice is an offence. If the owner or occupier of the land refuse to clear the litter as instructed then the local authority has the right to enter the land and clear it up themselves, and then to recover the costs of doing so from the owner or occupier. Litter Clearing Notices were introduced in Section 20 of the CNEA, replacing litter control areas and repealing the power of the EPA to designate litter control areas.

What if litter is not being cleared?

If duty bodies fail in their duty under Section 89 of the EPA to keep land and highways clear of litter, then Section 91 of the EPA allows for Summary Proceedings by Persons Aggrieved by Litter. What this means is that members of the public can apply to the magistrates’ court for a litter abatement order, forcing a duty body to clear an area that is under their control of litter and refuse. If the duty body does not comply with that order, they can face a maximum fine of up to £2,500, as well as an additional daily fine.

Kingdom’s Environmental Protection Division issues fixed penalty notices on behalf of local authorities around the UK to offenders who are seen breaking these laws in streets, parks and open spaces. The division is led by experts with an ex-police and military background and delivers over 270,000 Environmental Protection hours per annum on behalf of local authorities.

For more information about Kingdom’s Environmental Protection Division, please visit http://www.kingdom.co.uk/services/environmental-protection/ or call 0845 051 7702.