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Feature: Quality of life

The recently adopted Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act brings new powers to local authorities. According to the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), it introduces some of the biggest changes since the Environmental Protection Act of 1990.

Writing in his foreword to a report by CIWM, Ivor Llewellyn, head of the local environmental quality division at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says that the public will judge for themselves how we are progressing towards cleaner, safer, greener communities. Local Environmental Quality - a guide to good practice* deals with all aspects of the local environment, from fly-posting and fly-tipping to abandoned vehicles.

Most of the topics covered in the report result directly from antisocial behaviour on the part of the public, such as allowing dogs to foul pavements, careless discarding of chewing gum and the application of graffiti to buildings and public areas. And while few people will admit to dropping litter or dumping their waste in laybys, ENCAMS (formerly Tidy Britain) says that such behaviour has increased in recent decades.

ENCAMS has done extensive research into the causes of such antisocial behaviour, and found a number of 'justifications' commonly cited by those responsible, ranging from apathy to the view that "my little bit won't make a difference". In this, as in many other areas of life, there is a marked difference between people's declared behaviour and their actual behaviour.

Research into pleasant and unpleasant aspects of life in different parts of London** found that people ranked dog barking and graffiti as top in their list of concerns about the most unpleasant aspects of life. Surprisingly, that list also included serious illness and redundancy, both of which were seen as lesser concerns (at 1.4 and 4.3) than litter (6.8), dog fouling (6.9), fear of traffic accidents (8.0), graffiti (9.3) and dog barking (9.7).

In the ranking of the pleasant aspects of London life, clean streets scored 7.1, choice of travel options 8.8 and access to local recreation 9.1, while the top score was given to having access to a private car (9.4). So much for the Mayor of London's push to get people to of their cars and on to public transport.

Members of the public caught fly-tipping household waste have a number of standard 'defences':

-no-one said I couldn't tip it there
-there are no signs to say you can't
-everyone tips there
-the binmen are too lazy to take it
-what else can I do?
-it will rot down
-my bit won't make a difference
-the council charges a fortune for shifting it
-the tip is never open when you need it

The motivation for fly-tipping commercial waste is almost always to avoid the costs of proper disposal.

As the report says, while none of these are acceptable, they do give an insight into what changes to waste management infrastructure are needed to try to reduce the problem.

Examples of measures to reduce fly-tipping include the installation of metal gates across back alleys in Liverpool, giving householders keys for access but preven-ting non-residents from entering. Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has formed a Litter Hit Squad to removed fly-tipped material promptly, plus there is a website for the public to report dumped material and where possible name the culprits.

The Environment Agency's Fly

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