Controversial ‘bin fines’ for people who put their rubbish out incorrectly are facing the scrap heap under new plans. A victory for common sense, or damaging to recycling rates?
Hands up if you’ve ever put your rubbish out on the wrong day, got your wheelie bins muddled up or accidentally put the wrong type of plastic in the recycling?
Sounds innocent enough – but it could have cost you dearly if your minor misdemeanour happened to come to the attention of your local council. In England, you can be issued with a fixed penalty notice of up to £110 for that sort of innocuous mistake.
Councils can also push for ‘offenders’ to be given higher fines of up to £1,000 – and even a criminal conviction.
Bin fines binned
Now it looks like bin fines are headed for the landfill site in the sky. Under proposed changes set out in a government consultation, councils will only be able to issue a fine if they can prove that a resident’s actions are causing harm to the local community.
There will also be an interim cut in penalty fees, from the current level of £75-£110 to between £60 and £80, before the new measures come into force. The government’s environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, commented on the changes:
‘Honest, hard-working people have been punished for innocent mistakes with heavy-handed bin fines for far too long. We are now consigning these bin fines to the scrap heap of history.’
While many of us may have heard about local cases of the ‘bin police’ at work, I was certainly surprised to hear that almost 5,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued in the past year – worth a collective £215,955 – according to figures from the Sunday Telegraph.
It sounds like sense has prevailed – but councils argue that bin fines were only ever given out as an ‘absolute last resort’ in cases of nuisance neighbours.
Bad for recycling?
Bin fines were brought in to make people dispose of their rubbish more responsibly – so will the change make any difference to how much people recycle?
Apart from unnecessarily panicking people on bin day, the threat of a fine was never going to stop people making one-off mistakes. And it feels a bit off-target when considering the bigger barriers to better recycling rates – some of the complex and poorly communicated recycling services out there, for one.
Having said that, if my local council had spotted my neighbour’s consistent inability to put rubbish into the bin (rather than piled next to it) perhaps I’d now be living next to a model recycler. There’s no easy answer, but with squeezed council budgets, landfill tax rising and recycling targets being beefed up, getting more people to recycle remains on the agenda.
Do you think penalising people who don’t dispose of their rubbish properly is a good way of championing more recycling and less wastage? Or will you be glad to see the back of bin fines – and have you ever been faced with one?