The Dropping of Litter


The dropping of litter can cause many problems for both local authorities and local residents situated in certain areas. Accordingly there is much legislation put in place to combat this environmental problem.

What is meant by litter?

Litter is taken to mean anything that is dropped in a public place from sweet wrappers to bin liners to household waste and now also includes smoking related litter.

The Offence of Dropping Litter

Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes it an offence to throw down, drop or otherwise deposit and then leave, litter in any place in the open air.

Section 27 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 amends the offence to include within the definition of litter the discarded ends of cigarettes, cigars and the discarded remains of other products designed for chewing.

If caught will I face a sanction?

Those caught dropping litter in accordance with Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act will be guilty of a criminal offence and liable for a maximum fine of £2,500.

Due to the time consuming nature and the cost of prosecuting individuals for dropping litter then the preferred route to be taken is that of a fixed penalty notice.

Fixed Penalty Notices

Section 88 of the Environmental Protection Act as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act gives local authorities the power to issue fixed penalty notice for the offence of dropping litter.

While the individual is subject to the fixed penalty notice no criminal proceedings can be brought against him for 14 days after he has become subject to the notice or if he pays the notice. If he does not pay the notice then criminal convictions can be brought.

The Clean Neighbourhoods Act specifies the usual fixed penalty for this offence to be £75. The local authority is able to specify a higher or lower penalty (between £60 – £80) however if it deems it to be necessary.

Failure to comply will result in a criminal sanction.

Responsibility for Cleaning Litter

Public Land

On public land the local authority has a legal duty to clear refuse and litter from the land for which it has responsibility. This can include but is not limited to the following:

  • Roads

  • Parks

  • Playgrounds

  • Pedestrian areas

  • Tourist beaches

Section 56 of the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003 enables a local authority in England to enter land owned by the Crown or a statutory undertaker in order to clean the land.

Local authorities are also able to place controls on the distribution of free literature. This may be in the case of flyers and such like which can often become a great source of litter in certain areas. It is an offence to distribute or cause someone else to distribute free literature in an area which has been designated by a principal litter authority using the Environmental Protection Act.

Private Land

If litter has been dropped on private land it is the responsibility of the owner of the land to deal with. Local  authorities do not have any powers to enter private land to clear them of litter.


Street Litter Control Notices

Local authorities can issue street litter control notices which require owners or occupiers of certain types of commercial premises that have the front of their premises on the street, to prevent or remove the accumulation of litter or refuse in streets and adjacent open land, where the litter is related to their activities

The best example of this is in relation to a take-away food outlet. Not only will they be responsible to control the litter immediately in front of their premises but also in relation to parks and public gardens in the vicinity of their property.

  • Failure to comply with a Street Litter Control Notice will mean they are liable for a fixed penalty notice of £100.

  • Local authorities have the power to vary the penalty notice from £75 to £110.

Litter Clearing Notices

Under the Environmental Protection Act as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act local authorities have the power to issue litter clearing notices. Individuals and businesses who are the subject of a litter clearing notice will be required to clear litter of their land.  

  • The litter clearing notice must be served on the occupier of the land or the owner of the land if there is no occupier.
  • It does not simply relate to the clearing of the land but also requires measures to be put in place to reduce future litter.
  • Non compliance without reasonable excuse will result in a fine.

Litter Abatement Notices

Under the Environmental Protection Act as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act local authorities can serve litter abatement notices on other local bodies that fail to keep their areas clean and litter free.

This requires that the owner of the land concerned must clean up the area within a given time or face a fine, plus an additional daily fine if the offence continues.

The land must be cleaned within the specified timescale and if it is not the relevant local authority will be able to enter the land cleaning it and removing it of all litter. The owner or body in charge of the land will thus have to pay the costs incurred by the local authority in doing this.

Members of the public can also apply to a Magistrates Court to have litter abatement notices placed on bodies, such as local authorities that fail to keep their areas clean and litter free.