Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 16:40 UK

Author hits out at litter culture

Cigarette butts
Cigarette litter has worsened since the smoking ban was introduced

Author Bill Bryson has called for an end to litter warning that it is becoming the "default condition" of the English countryside.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which is headed by Mr Bryson, is calling for tough government action against litter and fly-tipping.

CPRE also wants a new law that would pay people to recycle plastic bottles.

But local councils have said it is often difficult to prosecute offenders because of loopholes in the law.

The CPRE says 25m tonnes of litter is left each year, a five-fold increase since the 1960s.

It is time that we did something about it - the landscape is too lovely to trash
Bill Bryson

Mr Bryson, author of the best-selling Notes from a Small Island, said that although fines for littering in 2007 reached 1.5m, the 2006-2007 cost of cleaning up the mess left behind by fly-tipping in England ran to 373m.

Despite the cost and scale of the problem, the CPRE said only 1,700 people were successfully prosecuted and almost half of the more than 43,000 fines went unpaid.

Mr Bryson told BBC News 24: "I think what's happened here is that people are leading different lifestyles.

"People are eating on the run now and increasingly dispensing of the packaging out of the car windows but we are clearing it up as if it was 25 years ago."

Cash for cans

Mr Bryson added that it was also the legal obligation of councils to clear the litter up.

He said: "If a council is leaving its lay-bys chronically unclean they are actually breaking the law, and part of what we will be doing is putting pressure on them to recognise these responsibilities.

"Litter is becoming the default condition of the countryside. It is time that we - all of us - did something about it. The landscape is too lovely to trash," he said.

In response to the calls for action, Waste Minister Joan Ruddock has said she would consider looking for ways to exchange bottle deposits and cash for used cans and bottles.

'Mire of confusion'

She said she was especially interested in consulting vending machine manufacturers about using their machines to collect empties.

Ms Ruddock told the BBC she would explore "new innovative ways of capturing these materials from the streets".

"We also need to say to people this is your neighbourhood, this is your environment," she added.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the law on litter was a "mire of confusion"

It said up to 70% of offences were left unprosecuted because of a loophole which makes it extremely difficult to tackle those who dump litter from their cars.

Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board, said: "No-one is complacent about the problem and councils will continue to crank up their operations to catch and prosecute those who mindlessly throw their rubbish out on the streets and blight England's landscape."

The government is considering whether to fine drivers if they or their passengers are caught on camera dropping litter.

Woman in court for dropping peel
12 Feb 08 |  West Yorkshire
Smokers fined for throwing butts
08 Feb 08 |  Lancashire

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific