Litter Strategy or Statute Law as a Wish List

The Litter Strategy for England is hardly remarkable:

“We want to reduce the amount of litter that gets into our rivers and seas. That means we need to work together to stop people dropping litter.”

As the historian, AJP Taylor used to say: “Most men can do better than this whilst shaving.”

Under “Sending a clear message” there are all sorts of banalities, which, if the government didn’t support, they would hardly be worthy of the title.

They are clearly under the influence of the correspondent to Viz Comic who complained that every week he recycled dozens of wine bottles and countless beer cans, whereas his neighbours managed only a paltry couple of jam jars. “Come on people” he is supposed to have said, “I can’t fix global warming on my own.”

Under “Cleaning up the country”, the Strategy wants to “help councils in deciding where bins should be placed, what types to use and how many are needed.” Oh good – it’s just that my local councils have reduced litter bins since their finances dictated that they had to get rid of most of those employed to empty them. A one off notice saying “Please take your litter home” is just so much more alluringly cheap.

That must be what’s called ‘joined up thinking’ in the neoliberal state.

And then the pièce de résistance of every government for the last thirty years: give extra legal powers without any extra means of enforcement. This is changing the law in hope.

This is the law of good intentions, which are not actually good enough.

It is not government executed law.

It is law as a wish list.

The Litter Strategy proposes to “give local councils powers to fine vehicle owners if litter is thrown from it.”

A power to prosecute dropping litter, which they already have! They are not, note, volunteering to fund a fleet of bikers to chase offenders. They are volunteering just to add extra law. In so far as it costs at all, extra law is only a one off charge. And it is a variant of the law we already have. We could have a bonfire of this red tape before it is even created. This is the display of government sophistry which literally and metaphorically ‘litters’ our neoliberal state. Making the law more complex in order to demonstrate political intention but in doing so, devaluing the law itself.

Back to the litter; since the date of the ‘Strategic Paper’ there has been a rather more honest request – though I have to hope the Viz Comic’s correspondent is still with us and noting the ‘voluntary’ and ‘economic incentive’ in the title – a Call for evidence on voluntary and economic incentives to reduce littering of drinks containers and promote recycling.

For once it seems that the government may be rather more serious.

Perhaps only because, as seems probable, Coca Cola is likely to be cooperative on recycling and countenance bottle deposits.

It seems that, as long as the big corporations agree, the supine state regains a little of its courage.

But that’s not a Litter Strategy, that’s just a rubbish strategy.



  1. David Howdle -

    As a retired Scottish public prosecutor I absolutely agree. Governments of all hues seem to consider that they have fixed a problem by making it a criminal offence. Then if the problem isn’t fixed it’s the fault of the police or the prosecutor, not the government or society.

  2. Graham -

    Litter is one of my “bete noires”. You see it everywhere, even in the remotist of places, like the dog poo in the plastic bag I found on Skye, miles from any road or habitation!

    It’s a culture thing, because some other societies, Switzerland, US National Parks, for example, don’t seem to suffer. The government could start a campaign like the Seat-Belt or drink-driving campaign to make it become a serious anti-social act.

    Laws that are virtually unenforceable – like litter, mobile phone use while driving – bring the law into disrepute.

  3. Peter May -

    Some councils used to issue on the spot fines for dropping litter but I doubt they now have the staff to do that. Yet the odd fine with accompanying publicity is probably all it needs to start to change behaviour.
    But what does not cut it is passing more laws -and especially those that dupilcate others – to show that the politicians are doing something about a problem and allocate no resources for its enforcement.
    It is true that as a common law country (and I’d include Scotland although they are not strictly a common law country) most laws were more likely to be obeyed just because most were common. But those days have long passed.

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