Clive Betts: Time to clean up our act or count the cost of litter

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ENGLAND is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan.

Levels of litter in England have hardly improved in the past 12 years and the best estimates are that litter costs the taxpayer between £717m and £850m a year to clear up.

Change is needed.

There has been a 20 per cent increase in fast-food litter in the last year. The Government should bring forward legislation requiring all shops, restaurants and retail food outlets to keep the perimeters of their premises free from litter.

Responsible businesses are already doing this. In addition, the fast-food industry should introduce “on-pack” information on all branded take-away and fast-food packaging to remind consumers to dispose of litter responsibly.

The most frequently littered items are chewing gum and smokers’ materials. Chewing gum and staining are difficult and costly to remove.

This was a matter of considerable concern upon which the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which I chair, deliberated at length.

We are not, at this point, recommending a tax on chewing gum. However, this is the last chance for the industry to put its house in order.

We recommend that our successor committee revisit this issue in one year unless it sees the industry making a much larger contribution to the costs of removing gum and staining and also encouraging its consumers to change their behaviour and achieving a significant reduction in litter.

In this regard, it should have larger notices about not littering on all its packaging, wrappers and adverts.

The tobacco industry is keen to reduce the incidence of cigarette-related litter.

However, the Local Government Association and some councils will not work with the tobacco industry.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs supports this position, but the Department for Communities and Local Government encourages co-operation between councils and the tobacco industry to reduce litter.

We consider it is up to individual local authorities to decide. But, if a council decides to co-operate, that must not be taken as support for the industry or smoking.

Equally, the tobacco industry must not use such co-operation in any way to promote the sale or consumption of cigarettes.

The tobacco industry itself must also do more. It should provide, free at the point of sale, portable ashtrays or “mini bins” for the disposal of cigarette-related litter.

The Government should ensure that a portion of any increase in tobacco levies is allocated to local councils to help pay for the cost street cleaning; and all public buildings must install receptacles for disposing of cigarette-related litter in those areas where staff congregate to smoke. Again, the installation of receptacles must not be seen as endorsement of smoking or the tobacco industry.

Levels of fly-tipping increased by 20 per cent in the last year. There were 852,000 reported incidents but only 2,000 convictions in the courts.

The Government should introduce a fixed penalty notice for fly-tipping for household items – the bulk of the incidents – and the industry must introduce a scheme to take away unwanted household appliances and furniture when replacements are delivered.

Councils should foster partnerships with charities who are willing to collect such items free of charge.

Much fly-tipped material is dumped on roads. Responsibility for cleaning and maintenance of trunk roads is split between councils and the Highways Agency.

Co-ordination has been poor. We are clear that responsibility for clearing litter and flytipping from all purpose trunk roads has to move over to the Highways Agency, and Transport for London in London.

In the end, it is individuals who litter and fly-tip their unwanted goods, and it is this behaviour which needs to change. We support a variety of behaviour-changing activities and campaigns.

The Government must also assess whether the fixed penalty notice should be increased from its current £80 maximum.

The current division of responsibility between Defra and DCLG is often unhelpful, and there is little coordination of the excellent work of authorities and volunteers.

We recommend that the Government create a national litter strategy for England, with a clear framework for action, underpinned with a co-ordinating role for local councils within their respective areas.

We support the introduction of a community clean-up day on March 21. This should become an annual event.

Clive Betts is MP Sheffield Attercliffe and chairman of Parliament’s Communities and Local Government Select Committee.