COMMONS

Cigarette taxes should fund litter clean up says committee

14 March 2015

The Chancellor of the Exchequer should hand over a portion of any increase in tobacco levies to help local councils pay for the cost of clearing cigarette-related litter, says the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee in a report on litter and fly-tipping published today.

A continuing litter problem

The Committee found litter levels in England have barely improved over the last 12 years, hitting the tax-payer with an annual bill of as much as £850 million in clean-up costs. Chewing gum and cigarettes were found to be the most littered items, while fast-food litter increased by 20% in the last year. The Committee is clear that change is needed and that individuals, Government, and tobacco, chewing gum, and fast food industries must now act to tackle the nation’s litter problem.

Chair's quote

"Litter is a blight on many of our communities and the public are rightly disgusted when they see discarded fast-food packaging, cigarettes, and chewing gum strewn across our streets. Litter levels have remained largely static over the last 12 years, with councils spending hundreds of millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money fighting a losing battle. Government and industry need to get together to tackle the endemic litter problem. Handing a portion of tobacco levies to local councils to help pay for the cost of clearing cigarette litter would show Government is serious about getting tough on litter."

Cigarette-related litter, fast-food and chewing gum

The CLG Committee calls on the tobacco industry to provide free at the point of sale, portable ashtrays for the disposal of cigarette-related litter.  Government must play a role too by ensuring all public buildings fit ashtrays in areas where staff congregate to smoke, so that smokers can dispose of their litter properly. Individual local authorities should not rule out working with the tobacco industry to reduce cigarette-related litter but this should not be taken as an endorsement of smoking nor should cigarette companies use it to promote smoking.

The Committee is concerned about the increase in fast-food litter which is often dropped over a wider area. The Committee recommends next Government introduce an obligation requiring all shops, restaurants and retail food outlets to keep the perimeters of their premises free from litter. In addition, the Committee calls on the fast-food industry to introduce ‘on-pack’ information on all branded take-away and fast-food packaging to remind consumers to dispose of litter responsibly.

Chewing gum and the resultant staining are a difficult and costly to remove. Having given serious consideration to a chewing gum tax, the Committee warns the industry that it now has one last chance to put its house in order and make a greater efforts to reducing chewing gum litter by making a greater contribution to the cost of clearing gum and staining and by placing larger anti-littering notices on all its packaging, wrappers and adverts.

Penalties

The Committee thinks an increase in the Fixed Penalty Notice for litter would act as a greater deterrent and help defray more of the costs of clearing litter. It calls on the Government to collect the data and properly assess whether the fine should be increased from its current £80 maximum.

Fly-tipping

The Committee found that levels of fly-tipping were increasing, up by 20% in the last year, with 852,000 reported incidents but only 2,000 convictions in the courts. The Committee recommends Government introduce a Fixed Penalty Notice for fly-tipping for household items—the bulk of the incidents—and calls on industry to introduce a scheme to take away unwanted household appliances and furniture when replacements are delivered. The Committee also recommends councils do more to forge partnerships with charities who are willing to collect such items free of charge.

Whether it’s unwanted sofas, mattresses, building rubble or other waste, much fly-tipped material is dumped on roads. The Committee found a lack of co-ordination on cleaning roads between councils and the Highways Agency and therefore recommends the Highways Agency, and Transport for London in London, take on responsibilities for clearing fly-tipping and litter from all purpose trunk roads.

Chair's quote

"It’s hard to deny England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan. While Government and industry must play their part, in the end it is individuals who litter and fly-tip their unwanted goods, and it is their behaviour which needs to change. The Government should consider increasing the Fixed Penalty Notice for littering so that litter louts are hit in the pocket if they are caught dropping rubbish. Litter campaigns also have a role and we urge people to get involved in community clean-up days in their area next weekend [on 21 March]."

A national litter strategy

The Committee found the current division of responsibility between Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government is often unhelpful, with little leadership or co-ordination of the excellent work of authorities and volunteers. The Committee recommends the Government launch 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.

The Government’s recently announced community clean-up day should become an annual event, say the Committee.

Further information

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