Are heavier fines the way to deal with the scourge of litter, asks Prof Rick Norman

The key to fighting litter is making people think

Are fines the way to deal with the litter problem? Local authorities are now permitted to increase the fixed penalty for littering, from the previous £80 to a maximum fine of £150.

These fines can be imposed on the spot by Canterbury City Council’s enforcement officers.

Last week the authority’s policy and resources committee agreed to bring in the increases, with the maximum of £150 reduced to £100 if the fine is paid within 14 days.

If we’re serious about stopping people dropping litter, it looks like an obvious thing to do. Isn’t it?

Fixed penalties are a blunt instrument. They leave no scope for relating the severity of the fine to what people can afford to pay.

Rick Norman

Rick Norman: “Make people think.”

For some, £100 is nothing. For someone on benefits it may be more than their weekly income.

This was a point made at last week’s meeting by Cllr Alan Baldock, who abstained on the vote.

Those who are poorest are also the people who may be least able to pay within 14 days, so they would be hit doubly hard.

On which point, other councillors’ comment was “they have an easy solution – don’t drop litter.”

Cllr Baldock also made the point that enforcement officers tend to focus on the easy pickings.

They work mostly in the city centre, and the people they most often fine are those dropping cigarette butts – unsurprisingly, since they are the offenders most likely to be caught in the act.

Having fined someone for dropping a cigarette end, the officers may then walk past a much worse eyesore such as an uncollected refuse sack torn open and spilling its contents onto the pavement.

But then, maybe that’s a different problem and less amenable to a fixed penalty notice. Cigarette ends do add up to a lot of litter, and they’re particularly difficult to pick up if you’re doing a litter-pick.

Council running Love Where We Live campaign

I’d certainly like to see enforcement officers deployed more outside the centre of Canterbury.

But the inescapable conclusion is that enforcement and fixed penalty notices can never be the whole answer to the litter problem.

People who drop cigarette ends, crisp packets and the like are usually just not thinking about what they’re doing.

The fundamental challenge is how to get people thinking about it.

Fines, and publicity for them, are one way – but only one.

That’s why I hope to see the council’s Love Where We Live campaign becoming increasingly prominent.

There are plans to do more, such as going into schools and colleges, displaying more posters in public places, and making more use of videos to raise awareness.

I’m looking forward to the “pledge” campaign which is due to be launched soon, asking members of the public to make their own pledges to tackle litter, such as pledging to always take their litter home, take part in litter picks, and so on.

The answer to unthinking behaviour is to find ways of making people think.

One response to “The key to fighting litter is making people think”

  1. Jeanie Armstrong says:

    Yes, often the poorest and generally unthinking are the easy pickings while deliberate acts of littering and vandalism go unchallenged. More enforcement outside the city centre is needed.

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