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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Don’t pick on people pick up litter.

The blog entry below appeared 5 years ago on the now defunct but much missed Works for Freedom site associated with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. I’m republishing it now because of fresh proposals to tackle litter.

As the Daily Mail says:

Litter fines set to DOUBLE: Rubbish louts now face £150 on-the-spot penalty while late payers will be forced to stump up £300
Theresa May's election manifesto promised to 'do more to reduce litter' 
The current maximum fine stands at £80 but town halls have demanded a rise
A large majority of councils now want the power to levy fines of £150 for littering

I stand by my conclusions but should make it clear:

I don’t believe this will deter ‘litterers’;
I don’t believe there is such a thing as a ‘litterer’, let alone ‘litterbug’ or ‘litter lout’;
I believe this will be used to raise much needed cash for local councils whilst decreasing respect for them and the law and
will involve privatised criminalisation of the poor and easily targeted.

Don’t pick on people; pick up litter.


’Hard’ to be green?  ‘Zero-tolerance’ and litter

My chapter ‘Matter All Over the Place: Litter, Criminology and Criminal Justice’ in the forthcoming Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology explores a ‘green perspective’ on litter.  It runs through criminological theory, anthropology, art and poetry to sort of conclude, untidily, that litter is difficult to define but should be important to green criminology.

That is, for very good reason, green criminology has looked at the larger misdeeds of polluters.  In this they might be seen to be following in the muck-raking traditions of investigative journalism and radical criminology.  Green activists too, often focus on these global issues ignoring the more local, indeed the hyper-local.  Litter is globally a very local issue.

The only criminology that seems to have engaged with litter was of the ‘Broken Windows’ variety.  Indeed, I found a large packaging firm in America directly quoting Wilson and Kelling on their website and claiming, ‘that litter is a "people issue" not a product issue.’  This may remind us of the NRA mantra that guns don’t kill people, people do.  Their website has since changed but they continue to be ‘concerned’ about litter.

As a teaching point I sometimes try to provoke students by pointing out the persistence of the average litterer against that of ‘your average murderer’ and suggest highly punitive prospective incapacitation punishment of litterers.  I’m as opposed (who claims to be for it?) to litter as most and occasionally ‘return’ it to its owner or clear up litter that is not mine yet I’ don’t advocate a punitive approach.  I think that this comes more from my criminological beliefs than my green ones.  Here I can only assert that the green take on punishment should be to reduce, reuse and recycle not throw away lives, even of ‘green’ offenders.

But as we shall see, others not necessarily ‘green’ but in the interests of ‘the Environment’, are keen to police, prosecute and punish and often through the private sector.  For instance,  Blaenau Gwent Council is now employing security guards from Xfor who make much of media coverage of their activities.  For instance, this advertorial from Environmental Health News in which they boast of their single and joint operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.  Apparently Maidstone, Enfield, Broxbourne borough, Birmingham City and Peterborough City Councils have all used their services.  Some of such usages have been sharply criticised by Big Brother Watch and by Ministers and the Daily Mail.

There is a disputed line between anti-social behaviour and the criminalisation of the disapproved.  There is also the temptation to pick low hanging fruit in any policing situation.  That is to pick on the discarded fag end not the factory that produces them.  The malleability of definitions in this field also mean that a reasonable desire to see the end of litter means some Councils are now using the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 to restrict public leafleting.

So don’t litter or else local or national authorities will use it as an excuse to criminalise you or remove your political rights.  Snappy slogan eh?