Defra urges ‘targeted and proportionate’ litter enforcement from councils

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued its annual report on updates to England’s litter strategy, covering the period from April 2019 to March 2022.


First published in April 2017, the Litter Strategy for England details 36 commitments to reducing litter and cleaning up the country.

Covering five areas of the Litter Strategy – education and awareness, engaging local authorities, making a compelling business case, improving enforcement, better cleaning and litter infrastructure – the report details key policy developments and consultations central to meeting these commitments.

Such movements include the ‘Respect the Outdoors' campaign, introduced in Summer 2020 to encourage people to correctly dispose of their litter when outside, developed in light of people spending more time outdoors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the report mentions the Government’s promise to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers, as well as its recent response to consultations on an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system for packaging.

A ‘targeted and proportionate’ approach to enforcement powers

In particular, the report highlights legislation in the Environment Act, passed into law in November 2021, which allows Defra to extend the promotion of responsible and proportionate enforcement.

It states: “It will allow for our enforcement guidance to be placed on a firm statutory footing and enable us to ensure that enforcement powers are used with a high degree of professionalism by providing powers to prescribe conditions that must be met by enforcement officers.”

Accompanying the document is a letter penned by former Environment Minister Jo Churchill, initially shared to councils on 16 June 2022, which urges them to turn away from a ‘blanket ‘zero-tolerance’ approach when issuing penalties’ and instead be ‘targeted and proportionate’ in their approach.

This is to avoid penalties issuing from becoming a profit-making practice and to undermine the legitimacy of enforcement powers in reducing litter.

Continuing this, she added: “I would find it very hard to accept any authority could set a future budget which assumed income from fines. This would be to predicate your future budget on the assumption that littering offences would be committed.”

Further, the former minister highlights: “In addition to enforcement action, authorities should aim to reduce littering and other environmental offences through communications, and the provision, and regular emptying of, litter bins.”

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