You’ve bin framed
Throwing litter out of your car window is a shameful and anti social habit. But it’s clearly addictive. More than 1.3 million bits of rubbish are dropped on Britain’s motorways every weekend. That’s over 67 million items a year, according to the Highways Agency.The game could soon be up for litter louts, though. Tough new rules are about to make it much easier to fine drivers. Soon London councils will only have to catch the offending car’s registration number on CCTV camera and the owner will be forced to cough up a hefty penalty even if they’re not the actual person who threw the rubbish! But what about the rest of the UK? To see just how bad Britain’s litter crisis really is, Auto Express decided to experience the clean up operation first hand.We joined a rubbish collection crew from Colchester Borough Council, Essex, for a morning on the verges. And we were shocked by what we found.We were destined for what’s known locally as the Avenue of Remembrance the main road out of town towards the A12, and the most popular route for those heading south of the area.We deliberately targeted this road because, with no footpath on the southbound side, it was highly unlikely pedestrians would use it. This was confirmed on the day we didn’t see a soul walking and it meant we could virtually guarantee every piece of litter was there courtesy of drivers.We met up with the council’s HotSpot team, Sharon Fulwood and Andrew Pitchford, who respond to calls from the public about where there’s excessive litter. Armed with a mechanical grabber and a roll of bin bags, we set to work and what a back breaking job it was!In a half mile stretch of road and on only one side of the carriageway, we filled four bags in 90 minutes. The most shocking thing is that this section of road is cleared every two weeks and on each occasion the same amount of rubbish is collected.”It’s disgusting what people do and what they throw away,” Sharon complained. “In the past we’ve found guess factory dirty nappies, bottles of urine and needles which we presume have been used for drugs.”During our session, we uncovered every type of rubbish imaginable. Fast food containers, cups, milk cartons, carrier bags and sweet wrappers were all common sights. We even found a wheel trim. “This is the guess factory kind of thing we usually pick up,” Sharon explained. “But we will come back in a fortnight and do exactly the same again. The worst bit of the job is when you get people winding down their car or van windows and just deliberately throwing stuff on the ground right in front of you as they pass.”Andrew had gone up the road in the other direction, and returned to the van we were using as a base with another four bags and some news. “I’ve found a dead animal in a bag, a folding metal chair anda bit of bumper trim. We’re going to have to take the van to pick up those,” he said.Every year, it costs more than 500million to pick up litter from the streets of England. And that’s just the roads not parks or public spaces. At the start of August, the Highways Agency launched a campaign to raise awareness of the problem. Called Bag it and Bin it!, the nationwide initiative saw thousands of special paper bags distributed at motorway service stations.But while such campaigns are a step in the right directio guess factory n, enforcement is more likely to change driver habits and that’s very much on the agenda.All council bosses will need is a car registration number, obtained from staff eyewitness accounts or CCTV. Officers will then contact the DVLA to obtain the name and address of the vehicle’s registered keeper. The car owner can either pass on the details of the guilty party or pay the fine themselves.A council’s best bet for a successful prosecution is CCTV images that show the offender’s face. But when the litter is likely to have been thrown from a moving vehicle, that’s almost impossible which is why the rules will change later this year.For now, the Act only targets drivers in London but one influential group is desperate for the rules to be applied all over the country.They can issue a fine to a driver by using the DVLA database (see our panel on Page 63). But they lack the power to enforce it through a court and pin the crime on the registered keeper if they say they weren’t behind the wheel at the time.Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA’s Environment Board, told us: “Councils are already coming under increasing pressure to deal with littering, and some of the legislation is confusing. Registered keepers can be prosecuted for speeding, unless details of an alternative offender are given. So why not for littering?”Not everyone is happy with the plans. Phil Booth is national co ordinator of NO2ID, a pressure group that campaigns against ‘the database state’. He told us: “Littering is an offence and it’s horrible that people mess up the environment. But the DVLA database which isn’t accurate wasn’t designed for this.”For the number of people it’s going to catch it’s disproportionate. This is a case of councils issuing bullying fines to motorists who may be totally innocent.”Extra InfoWhy councils are backing new lawThe amount of rubbish we collected in a short period of time on the streets of Colchester proved action needs to be taken and council bosses hope if the London scheme is a success it can be applied across the country.The Borough of Redbridge, in the north east of the capital, is keen to find out just how effective the new regulations will be. Russell Ward, head of Environmental Services, told Auto Express: “Litter thrown from a car is not only an environmental problem, but could possibly cause an accident or injure a member of the public. Redbridge takes this type of crime seriously and is looking forward to using the new Act, which will simplify current arrangements for issuing Fixed Penalty Notices.”He explained his area didn’t have a particular litter problem but, like a number of councils across the UK, it had highlighted hot spots. “A good example of where this rule change is going to help is in the car parks close to fast food outlets,” he said. “Drivers park up, eat and drink, then just dump their wra guess factory ppers out of the window.”Concerns have been raised that the new law is simply another tax on drivers a way for councils to raise cash. But Ward is adamant that is not the case in Redbridge. “We don’t consider this as a means of making money and have no targets for the number of people being caught dropping litter,” he explained.