Removal of HWRC charges among government’s litter strategy proposals

Litterers could be fined up to £150 and councils stopped from charging householders for disposing DIY household waste at recycling centres as part of the government’s new and long-anticipated litter strategy for England, published today (10 April).

Removal of HWRC charges among government’s litter strategy proposalsThe strategy, which has been in development since December 2015, outlines how the government aims to reduce the amount of litter on England’s streets and in its natural environment, currently costing local authorities nearly £800 million to clean up, between now and 2020. It will be followed next year with a national anti-littering campaign involving the retail and waste industry and voluntary sector to drive behaviour change.

As well as the proposals to increase fines for litterers, the government suggests that offenders, including fly-tippers, being made to carry out community service should help councils clear up litter and illegally dumped waste.

A consultation on the new enforcement measures has been opened today and will run until 18 June. The government hopes to gather the views of councils, the Local Government Association, vehicle-hire companies and taxi companies, environmental NGOs and charities and the public on whether to increase fines for littering and whether to introduce fixed penalties for owners of vehicles from which litter has been thrown. Guidance will then be issued to councils to accompany any new enforcement powers, to make sure they are targeted at cutting litter, while preventing ‘over-zealous’ enforcement or fines being used to raise revenue.

Meanwhile, following statistics from the Environment Agency that show that around half of the waste fly-tipped in England last year consisted of household waste that cannot be disposed of through kerbside collections, including material from house or shed clearances, old furniture, carpets and the waste from small-scale DIY, the strategy outlines plans to stop councils charging for the disposal of DIY waste at household waste recycling centres.

Though the Local Authorities (Prohibition of Charging Residents to Deposit Household Waste) Order already prevents councils from charging for the use of recycling centres, several councils have attempted to bring in charges for material they consider 'non household' streams. 

Building an 'anti-litter culture'

The introduction of the new strategy forms the first step in the response against England’s litter problem, with 81 per cent of people declaring themselves angry and frustrated at the amount of litter lying around the country, and the 2016 Great British Beach Clean collecting as many as 802 litter items per 100 metres of beach in England.

Measures such as increasing fines for littering, imposing penalty notices on vehicle owners when it can be proved that litter has been thrown from their car, and supporting national clean up days like the Great British Spring Clean, are part of the strategy pushed jointly by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and the Department for Transport.

Other actions established in the strategy include:

  • Issuing new guidance for councils to be able to update the nation’s ‘binfrastructure’ through creative new designs and better distribution of public litter bins, making it easier for people to discard rubbish;
  • Stopping councils from charging householders for disposal of DIY household waste at household waste recycling centres;
  • Working with Highways England to target the 25 worst litter hotspots across the road network to deliver long-lasting improvements to cleanliness;
  • Creating a ‘green generation’ by educating children to lead the fight against litter through an increased number of Eco-Schools and boosting participation in national clean-up days; and
  • Creating a new expert group to look at further ways of cutting the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles and drinks containers, cigarette ends and fast food packaging.

Removal of HWRC charges among government’s litter strategy proposalsThis expert group will be tasked with, among other issues, considering the advantages and disadvantages of different types of deposit and reward and return schemes for drinks containers, providing a report by the end of 2017. The strategy says the group will gather evidence from relevant industries and experts, and analyse the full costs impacts and benefits of these tools when put together, including the administrative costs of such schemes, the effect on consumer prices, and the impact on consumers who responsibly dispose of such products through their council-provided household recycling service.

Announcing the strategy, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Litter is something that affects us all – blighting our countryside, harming our wildlife, polluting our seas, spoiling our towns, and giving visitors a poor impression of our country. Our litter strategy will tackle this antisocial behaviour by building an anti-litter culture; making it easier for people to dispose of rubbish; and hitting litter louts in the pocket.

“We want to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it, and tackling litter is an important part of our drive to make the country a better place to live and visit.”

How will the strategy be implemented?

Within the new strategy, the government outlines three broad areas in which it hopes to make significant changes in order to bring England’s litter problem under control. These areas are: educating and informing, improving refuse facilities and services, and improving enforcement measures.

In terms of educating and informing about litter, the government will develop a national anti-littering campaign, improve education on littering through the government’s Eco-Schools programme, introduce a ‘litter innovation fund’ to finance small research projects which could then be replicated on a wider scale, convince businesses of the benefits of reducing litter, and explore voluntary measures to reduce littering.

Regarding improving refuse facilities and services, the government will continue to support national clean-up days such as the Great British Spring Clean, work with Highways England to clean up 25 litter hotspots on the Strategic Road Network, produce new guidance on “binfrastructure” for local areas, work with relevant industries to tackle certain types of problematic littering, and explore how packaging design can reduce litter.

Removal of HWRC charges among government’s litter strategy proposalsFinally, the strategy seeks to improve enforcement and monitoring of littering penalties, including through increasing fines for littering, introducing new regulations to help councils tackle littering from vehicles, ensuring councils are aware of the sanctions available to them and how to use them appropriately and proportionally.

Consign litter offenders “to the scrap heap of history”

Speaking after the publication of the strategy, Communities Minister Marcus Jones said: “It’s time we consigned litter louts and fly-tippers to the scrap heap of history. Through our first-ever National Litter Strategy we plan to do exactly that.

 “For too long a selfish minority have got away with spoiling our streets. It’s time we sent them a clear message – clean up or face having to cough up.”

Transport Minister John Hayes added: “Litter on our roads is a major and costly problem to deal with. It makes our roads look messy, can threaten wildlife and even increase the risk of flooding by blocking drains.

“To combat this needless blight on our landscape, I am working with Highways England to target the worst 25 litter hotspots on our road network, on which hundreds of thousands of sacks are collected every year with the clean-up bill running into millions of pounds.

“By increasing fines and working with local authorities, the Government is taking decisive action to clean up our environment.”

The full 82-page Litter Strategy for England can be read and downloaded from the government’s website.

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