Litter: who pays?

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In January the Communities and Local Government Committee took evidence in its inquiry on litter. Is it fair for firms whose products dirty our streets to pay the price?

Peter Box
YES The cleanliness of public spaces is important. Local authorities have been hugely successful in dealing with litter and keeping streets clean, which is borne out by high resident satisfaction levels. However, keeping streets clean is expensive and costs taxpayers nearly £1bn each year, a cost that councils can ill afford in the current climate.

We therefore need to do things differently and everyone, residents and local businesses alike, will need to play their part. Clearly individuals have a responsibility not to litter, but there are cases where producers or sellers of particular products should take more responsibility for clearing up the mess created and ensure the potential for littering is minimised.

Residents are rightly concerned about the unacceptable levels of litter outside some fast-food outlets and the piles of cigarette butts outside some pubs, as well as discarded chewing gum on high-street pavements, which costs each town centre £60,000 a year to clean up – costs which are unfairly borne by all taxpayers rather than the individuals or businesses creating the problem. A number of councils have been pioneering tough but fair approaches.

Alongside public campaigns, many are now asking businesses to clean up and provide bins outside their premises. There is a growing momentum for this approach. Local government is playing its part – we need business to do the same.

Councillor Peter Box is the leader of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council
Twitter: @MyWakefield

Martin Kersh
NO It’s illogical to say companies create litter. Businesses create the products, but no product throws itself on the ground without consumer intervention.

My area of interest is the packaging used by the takeaway food sector as we are often under attack. Food-service operators pay huge sums in business rates, part of which is used by local authorities to collect waste. Indeed some of the more enlightened local authorities have turned waste collection from a cost into a money-making resource.

In addition, all businesses handling more than 50 tonnes of packaging and with an annual turnover in excess of £2m are obligated under the producer responsibility regulations. This involves purchasing Packaging Recovery Notes, a further cost to the business designed to cover responsibility for the packaging they place on the market, be it disposed of correctly or as litter. A levy to cover the cost of collecting litter would therefore mean them paying three times for the service.

What is needed is strict enforcement of legislation regarding littering. Fines should increase in line with inflation – the £85 maximum is insufficient deterrent. Money raised should be used to fund more wardens, and more local authorities need to trial the latest technology – bins that compress the contents to hold more and signal the waste collector when full.

Martin Kersh is executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association
Twitter: @UK_FPA

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Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker is deputy editor at Think Publishing. Previously she worked as a features writer and sub-editor for Director magazine

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