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England is heavily littered, resulting in many detrimental economic, environmental, and social consequences.

In 2021, Bright Blue published our report Nature positive? examining in detail the UK public’s attitudes towards the state of and responsibility for the natural environment. We revealed that fly-tipping and littering is seen by the UK public as the third largest threat to the UK’s natural environment (25%), behind plastic pollution (41%) and climate change (37%).[1] A significant majority (76%) of the UK public felt that fines for littering should be higher.[2] This reflected a policy recommendation in our 2020 report, Global green giant, which called for an increase in the maximum amount for fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for littering from the current £150 to £500, with higher fines for repeat offenders, following the lead of places such as Singapore and Calgary.[3] Bright Blue then launched a petition to increase the maximum FPN for littering, backed by the Daily Express, RSPB, Clean Up Britain, and Sea Shepherd UK.[4]

This analysis builds on Bright Blue’s existing work and offers an in-depth explanation of the drivers and policies that attempt to tackle fly-tipping and littering, as defined in Box 1 below.

Box 1. Definitions of fly tipping and littering

Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of household, industrial, commercial or other ‘controlled’   (waste that is subject to legislative control in either its handling or its disposal) waste.[5][6] Common examples of fly-tipped items include household waste, white goods, and construction materials which are usually disposed of in large quantities.

Littering, meanwhile, does not have a statutory definition but is commonly regarded as the improper discarding of materials, such as cigarette butts or drinks containers,  amounting to less than a black bag’s worth of rubbish.[7]

The analysis first identifies the leading impacts and drivers of fly-tipping and littering, and provides an overview of current government policy towards both. This analysis then looks overseas to identify effective measures used in other countries to reduce fly-tipping and littering. Finally, the analysis puts forward original policy recommendations to reduce fly-tipping and littering in England.

Since fly-tipping and litter is a devolved issue in the UK, the scope of this analysis is limited to England.


We conducted an extensive literature review of relevant reports and surveys conducted by government, universities, and civil society organisations to identify the broad trends and drivers of the littering and fly-tipping problem in the UK. The literature review also helped us gain insights into how other countries have tackled the problem with a variety of policy approaches. 

Our thinking has also been informed by a meeting of Bright Blue’s Conservation Advisory Board and an invite-only private roundtable attended by leading decision makers from the  public, private, and third sectors.

What is the impact of fly-tipping and littering? 

Fly-tipping and littering have adverse impacts on our environment, our economy and our society.

Many commonly littered items – particularly plastics and cigarette butts – decompose very slowly, polluting soils if improperly discarded.[8] Dangerous chemicals can then be released into the surrounding soil, potentially making their way into groundwater and from there, into waterways and ecosystems.[9] This poses a significant risk to wildlife: the ingestion of discarded items can cause serious harm or death to animals, including aquatic wildlife. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) receives on average 14 calls a day in relation to animals affected by litter, with wild birds being a particularly common victim.[10] Additionally, plastic pollution from littering can disrupt the life cycle of microbes such as Prochlorococcus, a bacteria responsible for the production of 10% of global oxygen and critical for the marine food web.[11]

Fly-tipping and littering bring with them economic consequences as well. The cost to the taxpayer of cleaning up our streets is estimated to be almost £700 million a year in terms of spending by local authorities.[12] For fly-tipping specifically, the most recent figures show the cost of clearance to local authorities in England for large incidents[13] is £11.6 million a year.[14]

Research by Keep Britain Tidy, a UK environmental charity, has also found that litter is most prevalent in more deprived areas and can negatively influence local tourism and the local economy.[15] Unpleasantly, certain types of litter, particularly food waste, can attract rodents, creating pest problems for residential areas.[16] But perhaps more powerfully, litter can actually generate and reinforce negative perceptions of an area, reducing people’s enjoyment of the towns, villages, and countryside which may be their home.[17]

Indeed, the restoration of civic pride and activity in so-called left-behind areas is one of the core objectives of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda, as stated in Levelling up the United Kingdom white paper.[18] Tackling littering could well be an underestimated important step in improving civic activity and pride.

The state of fly-tipping and littering in England 

The prevalence of fly-tipping and littering in England is difficult to establish definitively. We can only illustrate the severity of fly-tipping and littering using the data that is available. This includes: the number and location of reported incidents; data from ‘sample sites’ specially selected to be geographically representative; and public perceptions.

Unlike littering, it is easier to report and track incidents of fly-tipping since it involves larger items being improperly discarded. However, there are still challenges with sourcing accurate data on its prevalence.

Incidents of fly-tipping are reported to local authorities, community organisations such as Crimestoppers and the police. Chart 1 below shows the total number of reported fly-tipping incidents to local authorities in England from 2018-19 to 2020-21, and where they occurred. Comparisons of data from the years predating 2018-19 cannot be made owing to methodological changes by Defra which took place from 2018-19 onwards. Of course, these are only incidents of fly-tipping which have been reported to local authorities and the actual number of incidents is likely to be higher than is indicated in Chart 1 below.[19]

Chart 1. Total reported incidences to local councils and land type of fly-tipping in England from 2018-19 to 2020-21[20]

Source: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “ENV24 – Fly tipping incidents and actions taken in England”, 2021.

In the past three years, we have witnessed the number of reported fly-tipping incidents in England increase from 957,157 in 2018-19 to well over one million in 2020-21.[21] The trend in where people most commonly fly-tip their waste has not changed: highways, footpaths/bridleways, and council land are consistently the most common types of land where fly-tipping occurs.

According to the latest 2020-2021 figures, a majority of 65% of all fly-tipping incidents (equivalent to 736,686 cases) comprise household waste. This includes, but is not limited to, house clearances, old furniture, carpets, and ‘black bag’ garbage. Similarly, commercial waste, which includes cardboards, foam, and plastic discards contribute to nearly 6% of fly-tipping incidents. The remaining 29% of fly-tipping incidents consist of miscellaneous waste such as construction material from demolitions, white goods, electrical waste, tyres, animal carcasses, and chemical drums among others.[22]

While individually dropped items of litter cannot be reported in the same way as incidents of fly-tipping, each year Keep Britain Tidy conducts the Local Environmental Quality Survey of England to assess the state of litter across the country.[23] Using a geographically representative sampling framework of 4,200 different sites across England, the survey applies a grade from A (no issues present) to D (heavily littered) to each site to reflect the severity of litter.

In the latest survey conducted in 2019-2020, 91% of sites were deemed to be at or above the acceptable standard of grade B (predominantly free of litter but with some issues).[24] While this may sound encouraging, Keep Britain Tidy also estimates that two million pieces of rubbish are being dropped every day across the country, meaning some 23 items are improperly discarded every second.[25] The most commonly littered items are smoking-related litter (77%), confectionery packets (45%), and non-alcoholic drinking vessels (40%).[26]

BOX 2. Cigarette litter

Available data tells us that smoking-related litter is the most prevalent form of litter in England, making up 68% of all littered items and found at almost 80% of sites surveyed by Keep Britain Tidy.[27] The vast majority of cigarette butts are single-use plastic and contain toxic chemicals once smoked.[28]

Research by Clean Up Britain surveyed 412 smokers to better understand their disposal habits regarding cigarette butts.[29] The study found that 41% of surveyed smokers admitted to ‘often’ or ‘always’ dropping butts on the ground.[30] 48% of those surveyed admitted to ‘occasionally’ or ‘rarely’ dropping butts and only 11% never littered their cigarette butts.

The Local Environmental Quality Survey of England also examined the types of land where people most commonly litter. These were industry and warehousing sites with 33% not meeting the acceptable standard for litter, high obstruction housing with 15% of sites not meeting the acceptable standard, and other retail and commercial areas with 14% of sites not meeting the acceptable standard. Other areas including highways, main roads, recreation areas, low obstruction housing, and main retail and commercial areas ranged from 2% to 12% of sites not meeting the acceptable standard.[31]

The blight of litter across England does not go unnoticed by the public. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, 38% of people reported having seen more litter near where they live and a significant majority of people (76%) noticed an increase in personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks being littered.[32] Furthermore, as Bright Blue’s recent report showed, the public consider fly-tipping and littering to be the third most significant threat to the country’s natural environment (25%), behind climate change (36%) and plastic pollution (40%).[33]

The key drivers of fly-tipping and littering 

There are of course many reasons why people fly-tip and litter. The factors most commonly cited in existing evidence include: social influences, such as how others have treated an area; lack of education; insufficient disposal infrastructure; the cost of legitimate disposal, particularly in the case of fly-tipping; and a lack of law enforcement, such as a low rate of fines being issued.[34]

On social influences, individuals are more likely to litter in dirty environments compared to cleaner environments. In a study where participants were given a flyer on the windscreens of their cars, they littered the flyer the most when they observed someone littering in an already dirty environment, and they littered the least when they observed someone littering in a clean environment.[35] This indicates that the state of the surrounding area can influence the decision-making of individuals. In addition, behavioural research shows that only 49% of litterers strongly agreed that they take pride in where they live, compared to 69% of non-litterers.[36]

Lack of education about litter is also suggested as a key reason for littering behaviour, with focus group research in Wales indicating that littering can result in part from never having been taught to not litter.[37]

Similarly, the direct link between the lack of public receptacles and the increase in littering suggests that insufficient disposal infrastructure is another reason for why people litter. If people are unable to locate a receptacle or the bins are not regularly cleared, overloading of receptacles can occur which leads to increase in littering.[38]

Furthermore, fly-tipping in particular may be carried out to avoid disposal costs. The cost for collection of bulky items which do not fit into a wheeled bin varies based on the type and quantity of items, as well as the local authority’s fee. For example, Fenland District Council offers the collection of four items per visit for £30[39], Medway Council offers collection of three items for £22,[40] and Blackpool Council the same for £20.[41]

Historically, charging at waste disposal sites may also have an impact on fly-tipping rates. For example, Buckinghamshire Council charged in excess of £20 to dispose of items such as boilers, and over £10 for other items such as shower screens/doors, windows or a fireplace.[42] At Brent’s Household Re-use and Recycling Centre, disposing of one tonne of waste cost £165 with a minimum charge of £16 for waste up to 100 kilograms.[43]

To assess the link between fly-tipping and disposal costs, Bright Blue previously recommended ​​carrying out a government-backed study on the cost of fly-tipping enforcement and clean up compared to the cost of running free waste disposal sites where building/domestic waste can be disposed of responsibly. [44] In April 2022, the Government removed the ability for local authorities to charge households for the disposal of DIY waste at waste disposal sites, but its impact on fly-tipping remains to be seen.[45]

Finally, turning to consider law enforcement, failure by local authorities to issue fines for littering has meant that their efficacy as a deterrent has been hindered. In England, litterers can receive a FPN ranging from £65 to a maximum of £150. However, data obtained by Freedom of Information rules has revealed that of the 169 councils which responded to the request, the majority (56%) issued less than one FPN a week and 16% issued none for the 2018-19 period.[46]

Current responsibility for fly-tipping and littering

First, on littering, the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, Section 89, establishes where the duty to keep land and highways clear of litter lies. The Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for the network of motorways and strategic roads managed by National Highways in England. All other roads fall under the responsibility of the local authority where they are located.

Local authorities are also responsible for land under their direct control and which the public has access to. Section 89 of the EPA 1990 also states that the ‘designated statutory undertaker’ is responsible for keeping their relevant land clear of litter. This is in reference to organisations such as those permitted to operate railways, airports, canals, docks, and harbours. For educational institutions, including schools and universities, the governing body of each institution is responsible for keeping land which is open to the air free of litter.

Section 87 and 88 of the EPA 1990 establishes littering to be an offence in any place open to the air, including private property and bodies of water. Those found guilty can be fined by a court up to £2,500, or more commonly, be issued with a FPN of up to £150 by a local authority. Although National Highways are responsible for keeping motorways under their management free of litter, they cannot directly issue FPNs to those who litter. Instead, they must apply to the relevant local authority – the one in which the incident occurred – to issue an FPN.

For some roads, National Highways contracts out responsibility for keeping roads and verges free of litter. However, this has been ineffectual in the past and drawn criticism, as Box 3 below explains further.

Box 3. An example of private contracting from National Highways: Connect Plus Ltd

National Highways has contracted out the management and operation of the M25 network to Connect Plus, including the responsibility for ensuring it is free of litter. In 2009 Connect Plus received a 30-year contract worth £8 billion of taxpayer funding from National Highways to deliver these services.

However, criticism has been levelled at Connect Plus for failing to ensure the M25 is kept free of litter, as is required by law under the EPA 1990. Ample amounts of photographic evidence, as well as an investigation by Channel Four news, has revealed that swathes of the M25 remain heavily littered.[47]

Further criticism comes from the return shareholders have gained. A report by the National Audit Office revealed that over an eight year period, equity holders in Connect Plus have benefitted from a 31% return per annum.[48]


Community Protection Notices (CPNs) are another tool available to local authorities and police for dealing with ongoing nuisances affecting a community’s quality of life. The Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced CPNs, repealing several other anti-littering measures in the process – including Street Litter Control Notices, Litter Clearing Notices, and, Litter Abatement Notices[49] – and placing them under CPNs.[50] The UK Government’s rationale for this move was the confusing nature of a system using several different notices.

As for fly-tipping, section 33 of the EPA 1990 establishes the unlawful depositing of waste as an offence, but does not stipulate a maximum fine.[51] Defendants are sentenced on a case by case basis with penalties ranging from the issuance of a FPN to vehicle seizure and jail time.[52]

Local authorities are responsible for investigating and clearing fly-tipping incidents, and enforcing penalties on those committing small-scale offences such as those on public land.

For larger scale offences, defined as quantities of waste which are a tipper lorry load or more in size, the enforcement responsibility lies with the Environment Agency.[53]

On private property, it is the responsibility of the property owner to remove waste, which they can be directed to do by local authorities or the Environment Agency.

Public policies to reduce fly-tipping and littering

There are broadly five types of public policies to address fly-tipping and littering: regulatory; punishments; behavioural; incentives; and educational. These can apply to both individuals and organisations, and to both producers and consumers of waste.

Regulatory policy uses regulations and laws to direct or control the behaviour of individuals and organisations.

Policies that are punishments seek to deter individuals or organisations from behaving in a certain way that violates an existing law or regulation. In this sense, they are a branch of regulatory policy.

Behavioural policy uses behavioural science to influence the behaviour of individuals or organisations through ‘nudges’. It is also a branch of regulatory policy since it uses rules to shift attitudes and behaviours.

Policies that are incentives seek to encourage individuals or organisations to behave in a certain way which delivers a desired outcome – for example, by offering a financial benefit for desired behaviour such as recycling.

Education policy engages the public, especially young people, through schools, civil society organisations, and national campaigns.

We now identify the leading and current public policies in England under these five types of policies to reduce fly-tipping and littering. Those detailed below are the leading measures; they are not meant to be exhaustive.


  • Plastic bag charge. By law, retailers of all sizes are required to charge at least ten pence for a single-use carrier bag. This is not a tax and the proceeds of the scheme are donated to good causes chosen on a case by case basis by the retailer.[54] To avoid the additional charge, consumers are thereby incentivised to use reusable bags, reducing the use of single-use carrier bags and the litter they can cause. Since its introduction the scheme has cut plastic bag use down by more than 95% and raised over £180 million.[55]
  • Plastic Packaging Tax. This new tax, which came into force on the 1st April 2022, charges manufacturers £200 per metric tonne of plastic packaging used in their product unless at least 30% has been made from recycled plastic. This tax is applied to plastic manufactured or imported into the UK but does not apply to packaging used for the purpose of importing goods. The aim of this tax is to provide an incentive for businesses to buy and use recycled plastic. In a previous report, Global Green Giant, Bright Blue recommended that the UK’s plastic packaging tax threshold should be set at 35% from 30% as soon as feasible, and this threshold should increase if viable on an annual basis thereafter.[56]
  • Ban on certain single-use plastic items. Common single-use plastic items including straws, stirrers, cotton buds, disposable plastic plates, single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, food and drink containers, expanded polystyrene containers, and oxo-degradable products are banned.[57] If found to be breaking the law, individuals and businesses will be issued a fine based at the discretion of their local authority.[58] The Government has recently concluded a public consultation which looked to extend bans and is expected to publish the outcome in the near future.[59] However, studies have found that just banning single-use plastics is often insufficient and does very little to reduce the total amount of waste without also banning single-use non-plastic alternatives.[60]
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Scheme. In 2024 the UK Government is set to introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging. This will require producers to cover the costs of managing packaging once it becomes waste and producers will pay more for less sustainable packaging, incentivising packaging that uses less material and is easier to recycle. Defra has finished consulting on the design of the EPR scheme and a full Government response is expected to be published in 2022.[61]
  • Electronic waste tracking. The Government’s flagship Environment Act 2021 will allow for the introduction of mandatory electronic waste tracking to begin between 2023 and 2024. The policy is aimed at collecting data to better understand how waste is processed and increase compliance by businesses.[62] Currently, the Government is deciding between two waste tracking systems: Anthesis and Topolytics. Anthesis relies on workers within the waste management system scanning QR codes on waste consignments and uploading the identity of the consignments to their database. Should waste go missing at any point, it can be traced back to when it was last scanned. Topolytics gathers data through multiple different sources including electronic invoices, weighbridges at refuse stations, bin weighing systems, vehicle tracking systems such as GPS, and smart labelling systems. The latter works by using printable radio frequency identification (RFID) tags which can be scanned. Topolytics then uses a tracking system built from all different data sources to produce a waste map showing where waste has been and will go. This data allows authorities to pinpoint where waste goes missing at any stage. The type of system to be adopted and its implementation date is yet to be confirmed.


  • Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs). Dropping litter is a criminal offence under Section 87(1) of the EPA 1990 in England and Wales. Litterers could face a fine of up to £2,500 if prosecuted in court.[63] More commonly issued to the litterer is a FPN, issued by local authorities or the police.[64] As mentioned previously, FPNs are set by the local authority and range from a minimum of £65 to a maximum of £150[65]. If litter is thrown from a vehicle, the owner of the vehicle can be fined, irrespective of whether they committed the offence themselves. The rationale is for FPNs to deter people from littering. However, many organisations, including Bright Blue, believe that a maximum FPN of £150 is inadequate to deter litterers from offending and have called for FPNs to be set at a much higher level[66]. Furthermore, very few local authorities have actually been enforcing the law – of those who responded to a relatively recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request, 56% of local authorities issued less than one FPN per week and 16% issued none at all – thereby undermining the efficacy of FPNs as a deterrent for littering.[67] A report by Keep Britain Tidy found that the majority of people who had been issued an FPN had altered their behaviour in the short term but it did not change their attitudes in the long term .[68]
  • Community Protection Notices (CPNs). CPNs, described earlier, are designed to deal with ongoing nuisances which affect communities’ quality of life. They may be used to tackle littering on specific premises, whether it is private or commercial. Before local authorities can issue a CPN, they must first issue a written warning to the individual or organisation undertaking the anti-social behaviour. Failure to comply with a CPN can result in a fine of up to £2,500 for individuals and up to £20,000 for business. Additionally, the magistrates court can order forfeiture and destruction of any item used in the commission of the offence[69].
  • Prosecution for fly-tipping. If found guilty of fly-tipping, individuals can be prosecuted with consequences ranging from unlimited fines and seizure of the vehicle used to commit the offence to imprisonment. Additionally, households can be fined up to £400 if they pass their waste to an unlicensed waste carrier which is subsequently fly-tipped. As Chart 1 showed earlier, the total number of fly-tipping incidents between 2018-19 and 2020-21 reported to local authorities increased by 18% from approximately 957,000 to 1,134,000. During the same time, the total number of actions taken against the offences decreased by 9% from nearly 501,000 actions in 2018-19 to 456,000 actions in 2020-2021.[70] Both fixed penalty notices and prosecutions decreased by approximately 40% and 25% during these years.[71]


  • Litter innovation fund. Defra and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) set aside £450,000 for two years from 2018 to provide match funding grants of up to £10,000 for local authorities and communities to come up with creative solutions for tackling litter. For example, in 2019, Keep Britain Tidy received a grant of £9,900 to pilot a ‘reflective litter’ campaign across the City of London.[72] It involved strategically placing mirrors in areas where people often intentionally placed litter, rather than carelessly discarding it, so that those who litter would then see themselves carrying out an act of littering. The mirrors were inscribed with text slogans such as “Mirror, mirror on the wall, litter reflects badly on us all”. Monitoring of the three sites where the pilot was carried out revealed a 19.5% reduction in litter.[73] Another example was £10,000 granted to Medway Council to deliver interventions to reduce littering at Chatham Waterfront Bus Station. They nudged people to dispose of their litter properly through interventions such as having a cigarette butt disposal bin which allow smokers to place their butts in a particular bin. They also painted footsteps on the pavement which led to a rubbish and recycling bin, encouraging people to use the receptacles. The interventions delivered a 71% improvement in the public’s perception of cleanliness of the bus station.[74]


  • Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). The Government is set to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), where consumers will be charged a deposit on drinks containers that are refunded upon the drink container being deposited in designated recycling bins. The scheme will be run by a new body, the Deposit Management Organisation (DMO), and is designed in such a way as to provide a financial incentive for consumers to dispose of their containers in an environmentally sustainable way as opposed to littering or disposing of the containers in a regular bin to be sent to landfill.[75] Defra has finished consulting on the design of the DRS and expects to publish a full response in 2022, outlining key policy decisions, such as what rate the deposit charge will be set at, who is responsible for collecting the returns and how widely the scheme will apply for example, the different types of items included and their sizes.
  • Free Waste Disposal: In April 2022, the Government announced plans to remove the ability for local authorities to charge for the removal of DIY waste from households including plasterboards, bricks, and bath units. The Government did in fact ban charges on local residents disposing of household rubbish at household waste centres in 2015, but now guidance has made clear that this includes DIY household waste. Around a third of local authorities still charged for certain types of DIY waste prior to the most recent announcement. The announced change in regulation could save households up to £10 for each individual item being disposed of and removes a barrier to the legal disposal of DIY waste: incentivising responsible disposal and reducing the likelihood of DIY waste fly-tipping.[76]


  • National anti-litter campaign. The ‘Keep it. Bin it.’ campaign, jointly led by Defra and Keep Britain Tidy, has reached 3.3 million 16 to 24 year olds, aiming to challenge public perceptions about whether it is acceptable to litter.[77] The campaign includes videos with anti-littering messaging, such as showing the impact it has on animals, which are displayed at various locations across the country, including online, in cinemas’ pre-show adverts, at Network Rail stations and digital billboards at motorway service stations.[78] It was launched in November 2018 and has been backed by commercial partners, including McDonalds, Greggs, PepsiCo UK, Network Rail, and others.[79] Historically, other anti-littering campaigns have been very effective both within the UK and internationally. The Love Essex campaign combined education with enforcement warnings by putting up posters on billboards and buses, and messages on fast food packaging, which highlighted the risk of a fine for littering. Additionally, there were regular ‘litter-picks’ with local businesses to showcase the extent of the problem. In its third year, from August to October 2016, the campaign reported a 41% reduction in litter. The Don’t Mess With Texas campaign was launched in 1985 by the Texas Department of Transportation and for the last thirty years has aimed to teach Texans the true cost of littering. Its billboard, radio, and TV adverts contain local and national celebrities who highlight the difference a single person can make by disposing of their litter responsibly and show how much litter cleanup costs the state.[80] Since 2009, the campaign has shown a 34% reduction in visible roadside litter.[81]

Figure 1. The leading UK policy approaches and measures to fly-tipping and littering

Littering policies overseas

Elsewhere around the world, cities and countries are kept clean thanks to unique and additional policies beyond those which have been enacted in England. Here, we focus on examples of effective regulatory, punishment, behavioural, incentives, and educational policies from different countries.


European countries such as Malta, Ireland, Portugal and Czechia have recently introduced ‘smart bins’ to tackle overflowing receptacles in public areas.[82] The bins are attached with solar panels which power a small compactor to crush waste, thereby increasing capacity, decreasing the likelihood of overflowing receptacles, and reducing the frequency of waste collection by 85%.[83]

The bins are connected to an app which can be accessed by both city management authorities and citizens. City management can monitor the bins which are nearing capacity and target them specifically for waste collection, increasing the efficiency of rubbish truck trips. Similarly, citizens can also access data on waste collection and locate nearby empty litter and recycling bins.

Malta saw an increased recycling rate of 51% since the bin’s introduction and the central district in Prague is expected to make over £10,000 in savings a year.[84][85]


Although punishments for fly-tipping and littering are common across the world, some are notably stricter than those in force in England. Singapore, widely regarded as one of the cleanest countries in the world, has a set of strict laws to keep its streets clean[86]. Litterers caught dropping small items such as cigarette butts or wrappers face a fine of S$300 (£180) for their first offence and subsequent offences attract increasingly higher fines of up to £10,000 for the third conviction.[87] For larger items that are littered, such as drinking vessels, the litterers are required to appear before the courts and carry out a Corrective Work Order, a form of community service where offenders must wear high visibility jackets which identify them as litterers and pick up litter.[88] Additionally, plain clothed officers enforce these laws, making them difficult to evade and over 3,000 surveillance cameras have been installed to catch litterers since 2012.[89][90] High-rise littering, where litter is thrown out of the windows of high rise apartments, has even stricter penalties, with first-time offenders facing a fine of up to S$2,000 (£1200).[91] Due to the significantly higher fines, there are less repeat high-rise littering offenders compared to general littering offenders.[92]

In addition, chewing gum is banned in Singapore. Its importation into the country is illegal for both commercial purposes or personal use.[93] If people are caught improperly disposing of chewing gum or carrying large quantities of it, they are fined S$1,000 (£600) for their first offence with increased fines for subsequent offences.[94] This ban is widely regarded as effective, significantly reducing the amount of gum stuck to sidewalks, making the streets easier to clean.[95]


Denmark’s capital Copenhagen ran a campaign called ‘Pure Love’ between 2012 and 2015, which encouraged residents to keep their city clean.[96] Measures included making bins bright green so they are easily identifiable, painting green footsteps on the pavement leading towards bins, and displaying heart-shaped symbols across the city with messages to reinforce the campaign.

An evaluation indicated an increase in awareness about cleanliness.[97] As a result of the campaign, Copenhagen was able to claim the title of being the cleanest city in Europe.[98]


In Australia, the Sustainable Communities Tidy Towns Awards, given out by Keep Australia Beautiful, rewards projects and initiatives with a focus on environmental sustainability and resource management.[99] The awards include the category ‘Dame Phyllis Frost Litter Prevention’, which directly awards communities for successful litter reduction.[100] Although it is difficult to measure the success of running competitions for reducing littering and fly-tipping, the award encourages communities to keep their local area clean and increases awareness of community-led environmental action.


Sustainable Coastlines, a charity funded by the Ministry for the Environment, leads New Zealand’s ‘Litter Intelligence Programme’. The programme is built on standardised beach litter monitoring, which is New Zealand’s adaptation of the United Nations Environment Programme/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission methodology. [101]

This programme has two main components. The first is where each school adopts a beach in their neighbourhood. The charity provides professional development training to teachers, and students are trained on how to collect data on marine litter to identify local issues in their community and tackle them. Through the programme, students are provided with training, equipment and technology to become ‘Citizen Scientists.’[102]

After successful completion of the first component, the second component integrates Citizen Scientists within a national network of monitoring groups. Schools are allowed to contribute their data to a national litter database which is used to track littering trends in the country as well as monitor and evaluate interventions to curb littering.

The success of this programme is reflected in the high quality of the database which is being used to inform government policies such as tracking plastics and single use plastic products. The data has also been used in official government reports.[103]


In the past, Bright Blue has proposed a number of policy recommendations to reduce fly-tipping and littering. These include: higher fines through FPNs for littering; ring-fencing revenue from FPNs for local environmental purposes; and totally waiving the costs for DIY waste disposal at household waste centres, a policy which was adopted by the Government in April 2022.[104]

Here we recommend new policies, based on the different types of policy approaches and from adapting examples overseas. The list of policies is not exhaustive; other organisations have proposed credible ideas which the Government should seriously consider. And there is no one single type of policy that will stop littering and fly-tipping. Instead a blend of approaches opens the possibility of finding and executing the most effective interventions to reduce both littering and fly-tipping.

The policies we recommend are guided by four key principles:

  • Fiscally responsible. Policies must be fiscally realistic and not place too great a demand on public money.
  • Be led by evidence. Policy suggestions should be supported by evidence of efficacy from either domestic trials or overseas implementation where possible.
  • Politically realistic. Suggestions should be realistic and not significantly change the workload of any government organisation or department.
  • Publicly acceptable. Policies should be likely to have the support of the majority of the public and not be too burdensome or restrictive on individuals.


Recommendation one: Task the Office of Environmental Protection with inspecting local authorities to ensure they are enforcing the law on litter and mandate the use of third-party enforcement services when they fail to do so.

Fines for littering – notably FPNs – could be a powerful tool to dissuade people from littering. However, many local authorities are failing to enforce the law on litter, or are doing so very lightly.[105] As mentioned previously, when local authorities were questioned via a Freedom of Information request about how many FPNs they had issued on a weekly basis, 56% of those who responded had issued less than one FPN per week and 16% issued none at all. If FPNs are not being issued, it hinders their efficacy as a deterrent for littering.

Currently, there are no official inspections into whether local authorities are enforcing the law on litter, nor are there repercussions for failing to do so. The Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), the new independent regulator designed to hold government and other public bodies to account on environmental protection, should be tasked with inspecting local authorities to ensure they are applying the law on litter. Where they are failing to do so, the OEP should mandate the use of third-party enforcement services to apply the law on litter within a local authority’s area.

Third-party enforcement services, usually private companies, are already used by some local authorities in England, such as Barnet London Borough Council and Bristol City Council. These third-party enforcement services are given authority to issue FPNs to those who litter by local authorities.  The use of such third-party enforcement services can be cost-effective for local authorities as they can generate revenue from the fines they issue. This also incentivises third-party services to actively enforce the law on littering and issue FPNs.

In 2018, the 73 local authorities who employed private, third-party enforcement services to issue FPNs issued an average of 2,940 fines each per year.[106] By comparison, the 230 local authorities who did not employ third-party enforcement services to issue FPNs issued an average of 157 each per year.[107]

Recommendation two: Update National Highways’ Key Performance Indicators to include litter, with an accompanying ambitious target for reducing it.

Littered verges along motorways remain a common sight for motorists in England. National Highways are responsible for keeping the motorways and strategic roads under their management free of litter. Attempts by National Highways to outsource this responsibility to third party contractors have been unsuccessful, as the earlier example of Connect Plus Ltd attests to.

National Highways’ Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) focus on the activities and outcomes which are most important to the organisation, broken down into several different categories. One category is ‘Being environmentally responsible’, where KPIs include noise reduction, no loss of biodiversity, air quality targets, and a reduction in carbon emissions, but with no mention of litter. Instead, litter is mentioned as a Performance Indicator,[108] but unlike KPIs, Performance Indicators are not seen as a critical measure which must be achieved and generally do not have targets.

National Highways should establish litter as a KPI. This would ensure that litter is treated as a critical measure which must be prevented, thereby embedding it within the strategic direction of National Highways. Furthermore, it should be accompanied by an ambitious litter reduction target for England’s motorway verges.

Alongside keeping motorway verges clear of litter, this would ensure that breaching contracts is taken more seriously. The contracts which have failed to deliver, such as Connect Plus Ltd, would be deemed intolerable and therefore likely to be negotiated more effectively in the future, such as including penalty clauses for failure to deliver.


Recommendation three: Introduce imprisonment as a minimum sentence for those fly-tipping asbestos.

Currently, those caught fly-tipping face penalties ranging from unlimited fines and seizure of the vehicle used to commit the offence through to imprisonment, irrespective of the material being fly-tipped. Given the strong link between asbestos and mesothelioma – a form of cancer with an extremely high mortality rate – those caught fly-tipping asbestos should face imprisonment as a minimum sentence.[109]


Recommendation four: Defra should re-establish the Litter Innovation Fund on a long-term basis with annual funding grants.

The Litter Innovation Fund ran for two years from 2018 to 2019 and gave £450,000 worth of funding to various charities and organisations to trial novel anti-littering methods, some of which have been described earlier.[110] Defra should re-create the fund on a long-term basis with new grants available annually for local authorities and other third party organisations for initiatives to effect positive behavioural change around littering.

While there is no analysis for the overarching efficacy of the Littering Innovation Fund in reducing litter, specific projects that were funded from it such as Keep Britain Tidy’s reflective litter campaign and Medway Council’s cigarette butt bin scheme have proven efficacy.[111][112]

After the Litter Innovation Fund has been evaluated to demonstrate efficacy and value for money, it should be committed to on a long-term basis with local authorities and third parties allowed to bid for grants annually. This policy would encourage and assist local authorities in meeting their local littering reduction ambitions and encourage the development of new ideas to reduce littering behaviour.


Recommendation five: Establish a Litter Intelligence Programme within the NCS so young people can become UK ‘Citizen Scientists’

The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a government-sponsored voluntary initiative for 16-17 year olds where they engage with a range of extracurricular activities that include outdoor team-building exercises, independent living, and social action projects. Currently, the scheme offers placements during school holidays in spring, summer and autumn.[113] In a previous report, Distant Neighbours, Bright Blue recommended that all state school students should participate in at least one week of NCS during term time in Year 9 or Year 10.[114]

During the second week of the scheme the children “design and implement a social action project which will have a long-lasting impact in the local community.”[115] While litter collection is already an option, the NCS should create a more formalised Litter Intelligence Programme mimicking that of New Zealand’s during the second week of the programme for student groups who choose litter collection as their social action.

The groups of students who choose to participate in this programme route in the NCS will be given a local area to adopt and then trained on how to collect data on litter. Once students have completed this one week course they can become labelled as Citizen Scientists or equivalent based on the level of training they received. Additionally, the data collection aspect of the training can be put on both their CVs, university applications, and if the scheme is successful form an additional source of litter data for national analysis.


Fly-tipping and littering continues to cause economic, environmental and social damage to communities across the country. With fly-tipping incidents rising over the past three years and reports of littering increasing, it is clear that public policy needs to do more in order to tackle this serious problem.

The policy recommendations above, or ones proposed by Bright Blue previously, are not exhaustive and will not end fly-tipping and littering. But by acting on these recommendations, government can play its part in reducing the level of fly-tipping and littering, creating a robust policy framework upon which to build on in the future. 


Patrick Hall, Rebecca Foster, Joshua Marks and Shrishti Kajaria


This report has been made possible with the generous support of the John Ellerman Foundation. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsor. We would like to thank Sam Hall and Kitty Thompson for peer reviewing this report. We would also like to thank Ryan Shorthouse for his editing and feedback.


[1] Patrick Hall, “Nature positive? Public attitudes towards the natural environment”, Bright Blue, (2021), 33.
[2] Ibid,76.
[3] Patrick Hall and William Nicolle, “Global green giant? A policy story”, Bright Blue, (2020), 29-30.
[4] Bright Blue, “Littering petition”, (2021).
[5] GOV UK, “The Controlled Waste Regulations 1992”, (1992).
[6] Louise Smith, “Fly-tipping – the illegal dumping of waste”, House of Commons Library, (2021).
[7] Sara Priestley, “Litter: key trends, policy and legislation”, House of Commons Library, (2017).
[8] United Nations Environment Programme, “Plastic planet: How tiny plastic particles are polluting our soil”,,species%20that%20drink%20the%20water l (2018).
[9] Ibid.
[10] RSPCA, “How littering affects animals”, (2021).
[11] Macquarie University, “It’s not just fish, plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help us breathe”, (2019).
[12] Annie Gouk, “The true cost of litter and fly-tipping in England”, (2020).
[13] Estimates for clearance costs of other sizes of fly-tipping are unavailable.
[14] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, “Fly-tipping and littering statistics for England, 2020 to 2021”, (2021).
[15] Keep Britain Tidy, “How clean is England? The Local Environmental Quality Survey of England 2014/15”, (2015), 36.
[16] British Pest Control Association, “PestAware the pest control blog from BPCA” (2018).
[17] Zero Waste Scotland, “Litter and flytipping – the costs and the consequences” (2022)
[18], “Levelling Up the United Kingdom”, (2022)
[19] Fiona Harvey, “Fly-tipping in England increases during Covid pandemic”, The Guardian, (2021)
[20] Figures are presented by tax year – e.g. 2019-20 refers to the period April 2019 to March 2020. Due to methodological changes, data from 2018-19 onwards is not comparable with earlier years.
21] ChronicleLive, “Incidents of fly-tipping soared in the North East during the pandemic”, (2022).
[22] ‘Other unidentifiable’ was the most prevalent form of fly-tipped waste after household waste, but cannot be categorised.
[23] Keep Britain Tidy, “Littering Monitoring” (2016), 1-2.
[24] Keep Britain Tidy, “Litter in England: The local environmental quality survey of England 2019/20”, (2020).
[25] Alistair MacQueen, “Britain in midst of ‘litter crisis’ according to latest data”, iNews, 2021.
[26] Keep Britain Tidy, “Litter in England: The local environmental quality survey of England 2019/20”, (2020).
[27] Keep Britain Tidy, “Littering in England: the local environmental quality survey of England”, (2017/18), 1-7.
[28] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, “Government explores next steps to clean up tobacco litter in England”, (2021)
[29] Clean Up Britain and DecTec, “Cigarette butt littering research: report summary” (2021), 3-4.
[30] Ibid,13.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Campaign to Protect Rural England, “Three in four people report rise in PPE litter since coronavirus”, (2020).
[33] UK data based on unpublished Savanta ComRes polling commissioned by Bright Blue.
[34] Ibid., 17-32.
[35] Paul Bonarrigo et al., “Using Behaviour-Change Strategies to Reduce Littering in Lambeth” (2020), 7-8.
[36] Social Engine, “Reducing littering in the New Forest: A behavioural insight project” (2020), 2-3.
[37] Ibid., 37.
[38] Conserve Energy Future, “What is Littering?” (2021).
[39] Fenland District Council, “Bulky Waste”, (2021).
[40] Medway Council, “Book a large or bulky item collection”, (2022).
[41] Blackpool Council, “Collection of bulky items”, (2022).
[42] Buckinghamshire Council, “Full list of non-household waste charges”, (2021).
[43] West London Waste, “Charges at household re-use and recycling centres”, (2022).
[44] Patrick Hall and William Nicolle, “Global green giant? A policy story”, Bright Blue, (2020), 30
[45] Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, “Government announces new crackdown on fly-tipping”, (2022).
[46] Damian Carrington, “Littering unpunished by many councils in England and Wales”, The Guardian, 27 Aug, 2020.
[47] Alex Thomson, “The private company failing to tame epidemic of litter on our motorways,” Channel 4 News,, 2020.
[48] National Audit Office, “PFI and PF2”, (2018), 40.
[49] Street Litter Control Notices gave councils the power to require businesses or individuals to clear litter from around their premises and take steps to prevent future littering. On the other hand, Litter Abatement Notice enables the Principal litter authorities to take action where a duty body is not keeping its relevant land clear of litter and refuse. Courts can also fine the littering authority with £2,500 charges and subsequent increase of £125 for each day after conviction. Similarly, Principal litter authorities also have the power to issue Litter Clearing Notices when land in their area is littered and detrimental to the amenity of that area. This notice can be used for most types of land and is thus a tool to tackle little on private land which might be blown towards public areas. Authorities also have the right to clean the litter themselves and then recover the cost from the occupier or owner of the land.
[50]GOV UK, “Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014” (2014).
[51] GOV UK, “Environmental Protection Act 1990” (1990).
[52] Ibid.
[53] Insight Security, “Large=Scale Fly-Tipping On The Rise”, (2020)
[54] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “Carrier bags: why there’s a charge”, (2021).
[55] Ibid.
[56] Patrick Hall and William Nicolle, “Global green giant? A policy story”, Bright Blue, (2020), 27
[57] House of Common Library, “Single use plastic: How do bans differ across the UK and EU?”, (2022).
[58] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, “Straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers ban: rules for businesses in England”, (2020).
[59] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “Consultation on proposals to ban commonly littered single-use plastic items in England”,  (2021).
[60] Timo Herberz 1, Claire Y. Barlow, and Matthias Finkbeiner, “Sustainability Assessment of a Single-Use Plastics Ban”, (2020).
[61] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “Packaging and packaging waste: introducing Extended Producer Responsibility”, (2022).
[62] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “Mandatory digital waste tracking”, (2022).
[63] Campaign to Protect Rural England, “What is litter?”, (2020).
[64] Campaign to Protect Rural England, “Litter Law England and Wales” (2020), 4-5.
[65] Ibid.
[66]  Patrick Hall and William Nicolle, “Global green giant? A policy story”, Bright Blue, (2020), 29
[67] Carrington, “Littering unpunished by many councils in England and Wales”, The Guardian, 2020.
[68] Keep Britain Tidy, “The Effectiveness of Enforcement on Behaviour Change”, (2011), 7-10.
[69] GOV UK, “Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014”, (2014).
[70] DEFRA, the official body responsible for collecting data on fly-tipping, changed its data collection methodology in 2018 due to which data from previous years is not comparable.
[71] GOV UK, “ENV24 – Fly Tipping Incidents And Actions Taken In England”, (2021).
[72]  Keep Britain Tidy, “Litter innovation fund (LIF)”, (2019).
[73] Ibid.
[74] Medway Council, “Litter innovation fund (LIF)”, (2019).
[75] Biffa, “Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)”, (2022).
[76] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “Government announces new crackdown on fly-tipping”, (2022).
[77] Oliver Nicholls, “Keep it, bin it”, Civil Service, (2020).
[78]Keep Britain Tidy, “Keep It, Bin It”, (2021).
[79] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, “Devastating impact on nature highlighted in new campaign to fight litter”, (2018).
[80] Don’t Mess with Texas, “Don’t Mess with Texas – The Campaign”, (2022).
[81] Zero Waste Scotland, “Some of the Best Litter Prevention Campaigns from Around the World”,
[82] Aseniya Dimitrova, “Prague introduces smart bins to save energy and money”, The Mayor,, (2021).
[83] Monika Dimitrova, “Smart bins reduce waste collection by up to 85%”, The Mayor, (2021).
[84]  Aseniya Dimitrova, “Malta uses Internet of Things technology to monitor smart bins”, The Mayor, (2021).
[85]  Ibid.
[86]  Alliance to End Plastic Waste, “The countries who have built a culture of cleanups”,,punishments%20such%20as%20community%20cleaning (2021).
[87]  National Environment Agency, “Enforcement for littering offences increased by almost 22 per cent in 2018”, (2019).
[88] Djulia Montana De Veyra, “Singapore: laws to know before you go”,,candy%20wrappers%20are%20fined%20%24300 (2021).
[89]  National Environment Agency, “Enforcement for littering offences increased by almost 22 per cent in 2018”, (2019).
[90] Alicia Tan, “Singapore has thousands of litterbug catching cameras”, Mashable (2016).
[91] Cheryl Lin, “More than 1,000 enforcement actions taken against high-rise litterbugs last year”, Channels News Asia, 2 February 2021.
[92] Ibid.
[93] Singapore Statutes Online, “Regulation of imports and exports act”, (1999).
[94] Djulia Montana De Veyra, “Singapore: laws to know before you go”,,candy%20wrappers%20are%20fined%20%24300 (2021).
[95] Naren Kashyap and Mary Rani Thomas, “3-Rev7 in Singapore- Case Study Editor”,, (2019)
[96] Clean Europe Network, “Nudging: from Denmark with love”,, (2016).
[97] Ibid.
[98] Ibid.
[99] Keep Australia Beautiful is a non public body but is partnered with the Australian Government
[100] Keep Australia Beautiful, “Community Towns” (2022).
[101] The Commonwealth, Clean Ocean Alliance “ Litter Intelligence Programme, New Zealand”, (2020).
[102] Ibid.
[103] Ibid.
[104] Patrick Hall and William Nicolle, “Global green giant? A policy story”, Bright Blue, (2020)
[105] Damian Carrington, “Littering unpunished by many councils in England and Wales”, The Guardian, 27 Aug, 2020.
[106] Manifesto Club, “Corruption of punishment: over 200,000 litter fines issued by private security guards in 2018”, (2019).
[107] Ibid.
[108] National Highways, “Highways England: Operational metrics manual”, (2021).
[109] Cancer Research UK, “Risks and causes” (2022).
[110] WRAP, “Litter Innovation Fund”, (2022).
[111] Keep Britain Tidy, “Litter innovation fund (LIF)”, (2019).
[112] Medway Council, “Litter innovation fund (LIF)”, (2019).
[113] National Citizen Service, “Your questions answered”, (2022).
[114] Bright Blue, “Distant neighbours? Understanding and measuring social integration in England”, (2019).
[115] Bright Blue request for information from NCS support line.