Environmental Protection Act 1990

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Littering not only makes a place look messy and run-down, it is an offence under section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This states that:

  • "A person is guilty of an offence if he throws down, drops or otherwise deposits any litter in any place to which this section applies and leaves it.”

The section applies to any place open to the air, including private land, partly covered land (such as bus or train stations) and land covered by water (including rivers, ponds and drains).


Litter includes cans, bottles, paper, plastic, food and drink containers or wrapping, left over food, cigarette and cigar ends, flyers and chewing gum.

Research by Keep Britain Tidy in 2019, that was commissioned by the Government, found that cigarette butts are littered more than anything else, accounting for 66% of all litter items dropped. By volume, they found that 75% of litter was the result of drinks consumption - including plastic bottles, takeout soft drink cups, cans, glass bottles and coffee cups.

The maximum fine for littering is £2,500, but in many cases the offender will be given the option of paying a fixed penalty of £75 (a fixed penalty notice) and avoiding prosecution. However, if the person is uncooperative, for example unwilling to give their name and address, they may be referred directly to the magistrates' court.

If a person chooses to return to the litter and pick it up following the intervention of an officer, it will not be sufficient for a fixed penalty notice not to be issued. The law is intended to prevent littering and there is no requirement for a person who has left litter, thrown litter into a garden or tossed litter from a car, to be asked to go back and collect it.

The keeper of a vehicle from which litter is thrown is liable to pay a fixed penalty.


Street litter clearance

The Council is responsible for removing litter and refuse from its highways and its own directly-managed land.

We have the ambition to provide those who live, work and visit our city, with high quality neighbourhoods. In the current climate of financial austerity we have seen an impact on frontline service delivery. Our hardworking teams still make sure streets on planned routes are swept on a 10-day cycle. We aim to respond to ad-hoc requests for litter removal as soon as operationally possible, so please be aware we cannot give fixed dates or timescales for responding to complaints about litter.

The Council provides and maintain litter bins to try and prevent the depositing of litter in public places and it arranges for the bins to be emptied on a regular basis. Litter bins in low footfall areas are emptied weekly, while bins in areas of high footfall are emptied at least twice a week.

Natural matter such as overgrown vegetation, weeds or leaves which have fallen from trees are not classed as litter in law.


Litter duties

Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 imposes duties on certain landowners and occupiers to ensure that their land (or land for which they are responsible) is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse, and on local authorities, the Secretary of State and a strategic highways company (for example, Highways England) to ensure public highways for which they are responsible are, so far as is practicable, kept clean.

The 'duty bodies' are:

  • district, county, unitary and parish councils

  • some Crown authorities

  • designated statutory undertakers, such as Network Rail, Nexus, railway companies, canals, harbours, ports and airports

  • governing bodies of designated educational institutions

  • highway authorities

  • Highways England

The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse is issued under section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to provide practical guidance on the discharge of these duties. It is a part of the duty to remove refuse. Refuse comprises any waste or rubbish and fly-tipped waste. Dog faeces are treated as refuse when present on certain types of public land such as public footpaths, picnic areas, parks and recreation grounds, and are therefore required to be cleaned up by the duty body responsible for that land.

Highways must be kept ‘clean’. This means that as well as keeping them free from litter and refuse, they should also be cleansed of detritus.


Litter on private land

It is still an offence to deposit litter on someone else's land in the open air even if the public have no right of access to that land. This means the law on littering applies to private gardens, farmland, woodland, business or industrial units, shopping centres, car parks, etc. However we do not have suitable enforcement powers to deal with litter building up on private land.

The removal of litter or rubbish that has accumulated on privately-owned land is the responsibility of the landowner. The Council is not responsible for clearing litter from privately-owned land or private roads.

A person aggrieved by litter on land of a duty body (see above) may make a complaint to a magistrates' court requesting a litter abatement order (section 91 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990). A local authority may not take this form of action.

Private alleyways or service roads that are not adopted by the Council will be the responsibility of the owner of the land and/or those that have rights of access over the land. Where appropriate, local authorities can sweep and cleanse any court, yard or passage, which is used in common by the occupants or two or more buildings, and recover the costs from them (section 78 of the Public Health Act 1936).

In some circumstances involving accumulations of waste and/or litter we can take action if it has caused a nuisance to neighbours, is a threat to neighbours' health or there are vermin present. See our advice on accumulations and statutory nuisances. We cannot intervene where the land is merely unattractive, overgrown or littered with inert material.

We will investigate reports of accumulations of waste on private land and determine if it may provide nesting/harbourage for rats (soft furnishings, mattresses, etc.) and/or contain waste that may provide food for rats.


Legal notices and public register

Street Litter Control Notices (SLCNs) were a power under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. SLCNs gave local authorities the power to require certain types of businesses to clear litter from the street around their premises. Local authorities can no longer issue SLCNs, but they must keep a public register of any existing SLCNs for as long as they’re in force.

There are no extant SLCNs in Newcastle upon Tyne.




If you have any problems with the reporting form please phone 0191 278 7878 and ask for "Your Local Services."

Remember if you do this, please have any useful information ready, like the address and location of the litter.