Litter can blight entire neighbourhoods. Ranging from biodegradable paper and wood up to cans, plastic and glass bottles which can have sharp edges and be dangerous to pets and children, litter is a common sight on many of our streets. Less noticeable are discarded food items which are usually eaten by the local wildlife, but can encourage vermin to move into an area.

In larger towns there is often a dedicated team who patrol the streets periodically removing litter. If there is no Litter Patrol, or for more severe problems such as dumping, your local Council has a telephone number or website to report litter in public areas, and generally they are pretty good at removing it promptly.

It is your Council's statutory responsibility to ensure that their land (including "publicly maintainable highways") is kept clear of litter and refuse, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

DEFRA have produced a Code of Practice for Council's to follow, and which is legally admissable as evidence in Court. This Code sets out time limits for removing litter depending on the predominant use of the area:

- Drug-related litter (eg. needles) should be cleared within 3 hours of notification, as a priority case

- Busy public areas (eg. town centres) which must be cleared within half a day of a report of litter being received

- Everyday areas (eg. occupied housing areas) which must be cleared by 6pm of the day following a report of litter being received

- Rural areas which must be cleared within 14 days of a report of litter being received

If your Council fails to meet these deadlines, it is guilty of an Environmental Crime and you can apply to your local magistrates court to issue a Litter Abatement Order under s91 of the EPA 1990. There is a small fee for this application, which can be recovered from the Council.

Failure to comply with an order is a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine of 2,500 plus 125 per day the offence continues.

It is recommended that, when reporting litter to your Council, you should take photos and note the time and date you reported it. After the deadline has passed, you should take further photos as evidence, if you wish to apply to the Court for a Litter Abatement Order.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England have produced a very good step-by-step guide about applying for a Litter Abatement Order which includes sample letters

If your Council is persistently tardy in removing litter and fails to comply with the above deadlines, but removes the litter before a Litter Abatement Order can be granted, you can also complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. A separate section is devoted to the Ombudsman Service.

We have all seen the uncollected plastic bags full of litter at the side of our streets; sometimes a Council worker has put a sticker on them stating that "This environmental crime is being investigated". However, as soon as the Council (via its employees) has become aware of this litter, they have a duty to remove it within the deadlines set out above. Stickering litter does not negate a Council's duty to remove it promptly. It is difficult to see why they would expend time and resources stickering such bagged litter which would be much better spent actually removing it from the streets, before the rats remove it piecemeal.

I have also noticed the same stickering taking place when wheelie bins are left out after collection for more than a day or so. However, it is ironic that the Council themselves often create worse such "Environmental Crimes" by simply abandoning the empty wheelie bins at the side of the road after collection. This then causes an additional problem of obstruction, forcing disabled people and those with young children into the path of traffic, or even blocking some roads completely.

Before and After refuse collection - in this case the Council's employees had left the empty bins obstructing a public highway

This is the worst situation I have ever seen, the Council failed to collect the rubbish on schedule with the result the bins were left out for many days over the New Year period. In addition, the animals had started to tear open the bin bags. The Council were advised within several hours of this rubbish, but failed to collect it within a reasonable time. It also created an obstruction to the public highway. If this happens to you, and you require access to your property (for example, you are disabled) I would recommend you contact your local police to request the obstruction be cleared.

It goes without saying that this situation is unacceptable close to an infants school.





Two other examples of obstructed paths. Your Council has a statutory duty to maintain the highway, and has powers to require the owners to clear any such obstructions, under the Highways Act 1980. A sample letter requesting the Council to clear such obstructions is here.