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Environmental Crime and Punishment

Environmental law levies harsh penalties on those who would befoul the natural world, whether through intention or mere happenstance.

When we think of environmental crimes, we tend to think of large scale things, such as causing oil spills and illegal logging. However, there are a number of environmental crimes that could be committed by everyday people.


Littering encourages vermin and disease, and can trap or hurt innocent animals, as well as being unpleasant to look at. It is estimated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that local authorities spend over half a billion pounds each year just cleaning up litter.

It is illegal to drop litter, even if there are no bins nearby. Local authorities and the police enforce this law – councils can appoint litter wardens, who can give £80 fines to anyone they see littering. Offenders can also be prosecuted in a magistrates’ court for littering, where they can face a fine of up to £2,500.


Rubbish should only be disposed of in a designated area, such as a rubbish tip – fly-tipping is another name for the dumping of rubbish in undesignated areas. Fly-tipping is harmful to natural habitats, ugly, and potentially dangerous, not to mention expensive. The clearing away of fly-tipped rubbish has grown into a small industry in itself, with the monetary cost to local councils estimated by DEFRA to be at the significant annual figure of £4 billion.

DEFRA believes that around half of all fly-tipping consists of household waste: unwanted sofas, mattresses, kitchen appliances and plain old black bags full of rubbish. While some of the waste is not so dangerous, commonly dumped things like used fridges and freezers can contain many dangerous chemicals and gases, and have national standards of disposal that need to be met to make sure that they are disposed of safely.

Fly-tipping fines

In some cases, such as for household waste, it is no easier or cheaper to fly-tip than it is to use safe and legal forms of removal. Since the Clean Neighborhoods and Environment Act 2005, councils have had increased powers to punish those responsible for fly-tipping.

A warranted officer can issue a fixed penalty notice carrying a fine of £300 for fly-tipping. Offenders can also be prosecuted in court, which can result in a five-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of £50,000.

Reporting fly-tipping

If you have discovered a large amount of illegally dumped waste, you should contact the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60. A large amount would be considered to be anything over 18 tonnes or 20 cubic metres (although, as it would be difficult to tell exactly how much waste there is just by looking at it, you should just estimate). For smaller amounts, you should contact your local council.


Where one man may find artistic expression, another may find unwanted paint on the walls; graffiti is a polarising activity.

Cost of graffiti removal

The removal of graffiti costs businesses and local authorities millions of pounds each year. The Home Office has funded anti-social behaviour coordinators for most local councils, who advise on how to deal with graffiti.

Graffiti fines

Under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 and other more recent pieces of legislation, graffiti is a criminal act. Those caught making graffiti can receive an on-the-spot fine of £80 or, if taken to court, a fine of up to £5,000.

Selling spray paint to under-16s is also illegal – this is punishable with a fine of up to £2,500.


Flyposting is the unauthorised sticking of advertisement posters to walls, lampposts, poles, bins and anywhere else that may get the poster seen by the public.

Flyposting is illegal partly because of its negative impact on the visual appeal of a place, and partly because it is generally done by businesses seeking free advertising. Allowing businesses to post advertisement posters anywhere would give them an unfair advantage and allow them to avoid advertising regulations.

If you are caught flyposting, you could receive a fixed penalty notice – the standard amount for this is £75, though some local authorities have the power to fine a different amount.

If you are prosecuted, you could be fined up to £2,500. You could also be fined an extra 10% of this fine for every day that you continue to flypost – for example, if you continued to flypost for four days and were fined £2,500, you could be hit with an extra £1,000 fine.

If someone has flyposted on your behalf without you having anything to do with it – for example, if someone puts up posters advertising your business without you knowing – you can still be prosecuted and fined. If you had nothing to do with it, you will need to prove that you knew nothing about the flyposting, or that you took all reasonable steps to try and prevent or remove it.

Some local authorities have issued other punishments for flyposting, such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) and civil injunctions. Those who are caught flyposting after being given a civil injunction for it could face two years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Dog Fouling

Dog mess can be offensive to the nose and eyes, as well as hazardous to health. Therefore dog owners have a legal obligation to clean up any mess that their dog leaves behind.

Blind people are exempt from cleaning up after their guide dogs, and anyone who finds that their dog has fouled in any one of the following four areas will not need to clean it up:

  • highways with a speed limit of over 50mph
  • rural common land
  • woodland and agricultural land
  • marsh, moor and heath land

Most dog owners carry a piece of equipment known as the ‘pooper scoop’ to safely and hygienically clean up after their dogs. Some local councils even offer free scoops to encourage dog owners to use them. Special bins are also provided to make it easy to dispose of the faecal matter.

Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, local councils can clean up an area befouled by many dogs. The same act also allows local communities, in conjunction with their council, to create by-laws that can be tailored to deal with the specifics of the dog fouling problem in their area.

Punishments for allowing a dog to foul in a public space include:

  • Fixed penalty notice – the standard rate in most areas is £75, but this can vary
  • Dog control orders issued against the dog owner
  • Prosecution in a magistrates’ court – this could result in a fine of up to £1,000.

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