The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 could be used to force the free sheets to take responsibility for their waste, which costs the council about £111,000 a year to clean up. The council said it believes it is one of the first local authorities to consider using this Act in this way.
As well as voting to use the powers of the Act if deemed necessary, the council agreed to trial a two month voluntary control regime with the publishers of the free papers News International and Associated Papers. This means the publishers will undertake the removal and recycling of discarded papers in the worst affected areas of Westminster.
About one million copies of the London Paper and London Lite are distributed in London five days a week. The effects of this are felt most in the West End where a quarter of the street waste is discarded free papers, the council said. An added problem is that any papers thrown on the ground or mixed with other waste become contaminated and cannot be recycled.
Proposals to set up a viable recycling regime, which would involve each newspaper in sponsoring 150 recycling bins and a vehicle to empty them, are under consideration. But it is dependent on both publishers agreeing to share the costs equally.
Negotiations between the council and publishers have not yet reached a financial agreement about how to deal with the waste. The council said if an agreement is not reached in the next month, it will compel the paper producers to tackle their waste according to the law. This means that anyone distributing free literature across the worst affected areas of the West End will need a permit.
Council cabinet member of street environment Alan Bradley said: "This proposal gives us the authority to forcibly tackle the issue of waste if the voluntary agreement fails. However, I hope both publishers will be eager to ensure that the voluntary agreement works and we will be monitoring its effectiveness closely.