The dropping of litter


More than two million pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day, according to the Symphony Environmental Study 2005. The dropping of litter can cause many problems for both local authorities and local residents. Accordingly, there is legislation in place to combat this environmental problem.

What is meant by litter?

Litter is waste that has been dropped improperly, without consent in a public place. It can include anything from sweet wrappers to bin liners; from household waste to cigarette ends.

Offences of dropping litter

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

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 (CNEA 2005), s 27, amends the offence to include in the definition of litter discarded ends of cigarettes, cigars and the remains of other products designed for chewing. It also extended the powers of local authorities to tackle littering.

Those caught dropping litter under s 87 of EPA 1990 will be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to a maximum fine of £2,500.

Due to the time-consuming nature and the cost of prosecuting individuals for dropping litter, the route usually taken to deal with it is a fixed penalty notice.

Fixed penalty notices

EPA 1990, s 88, 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 them for 14 days after they have become subject to the notice or if they pay the notice. If they do not pay the notice, criminal proceedings can be brought.

CNEA 2005 specifies the usual fixed penalty for this offence to be £75 (although this can be increased or reduced by the local authority if it feels this is necessary). Failure to comply will result in a criminal sanction.

Responsibility for cleaning litter

Public land

The local authority has a legal duty to clear refuse and litter from the public land for which it has responsibility. This can include:

  • roads;
  • parks;
  • playgrounds;
  • pedestrian areas;
  • beaches.

Private land

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


Street litter control notices

Under EPA 1990, s 93, local authorities can issue street litter control notices which require owners or occupiers of premises in and around any street or open land adjacent to any street, to prevent or remove litter that has accumulated there.

An example of this is in relation to a take-away food shop. They will be responsible for controlling the litter both immediately in front of their premises and 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 EPA 1990, s 92A, 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 off 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 of up to £2,500.

Litter abatement notices

Under EPA 1990, s 92, 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 to clean up the area within a given time or face a fine of up to £2,500, plus an additional daily fine if the offence continues.

The land must be cleaned within the specified timescale; if it is not, the relevant local authority will be able to enter the land to clean it and remove all litter. The owner or body in charge of the land will 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.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.