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Comment: Will new litter laws make a difference?

Are we now going to see headlines about people being fined for dropping cigarette butts or chewing gum? Somehow, I doubt it.

This week saw many of the measures of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act come into force.

The intention of the Act is good. Who doesn't want a cleaner neighbourhood? For too long, littering has been a blight across Britain with towns, cities and countryside all affected by the laziness of the public.

Despite many people blaming local authorities for not providing enough bins or enough people and machinery to clean up the streets, this is not the real reason for excessive litter.

Many people will have seen instances where the perennially lazy, or maybe even stupid, drop litter near to bins when the much better option is to place it in the bin. Very little is going to stop these people unless they are hit where it hurts in their pockets.

The danger though is that the new law will not have teeth. Most local authorities warn their residents that they could face fines for dog mess through street signage, but who knows someone who has been prosecuted? Yet, we all know someone, even ourselves, that has stepped in it.

It is likely to be the same for the new law. Although the Act will make great strides towards combating the problem of fly-tipping with greater law enforcement powers including the right to arrest fly-tippers and fines up to £50,000, it will be very difficult to police the normal members of the public who have turned our pavements into chewing gum artworks as intricate as a Bridget Riley painting.

It can only be hoped though, that through education and, if necessary, fining people for dropping litter, the law is effective.

But the recycling and waste industries also need to think ahead about our litter habits when members of the public are out and about from home.

Many people are embracing the lifestyle change that is recycling and are actively doing something about it in their homes, more often than not aided by excellent and ever improving kerbside collection schemes.

Yet when it comes to going shopping, going for a walk in the park, or any activity that does not involve the home, our recycling options become extremely limited.

Other than taking their waste home to recycle, which many people won't do, the only option is to bin the waste and therefore send it to landfill.

As the summer weather kicks in, cans and plastic bottles will be consumed much more with no recycled afterlife to go to, but a big, deep pit instead.

Both Government and local authorities need to look at how the nation's network of litter bins can be replaced by tidily efficient multi-purpose recycling and general waste bins that are already found in many parts of the world.

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