Britain's first prosecution for failing to recycle household waste has failed after a woman was cleared of putting the items in the wrong bin.
Exeter City Council pledged to continue chasing recycling offenders through the courts, despite yesterday's landmark ruling.
Donna Challice, 31, was prosecuted for putting non-recyclable waste in a green wheelie bin at her home in Exeter, but was cleared at Cullompton magistrates' court.
She had denied putting waste, including left-over takeaways, cigarette ends, bicycle parts and the contents of a vacuum cleaner, into the recycling bin the council provided; the magistrates said the case had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Ms Challice's solicitor, Mark Shell, said that his client was "delighted" at the verdict. "She is overwhelmed. This has been a very high profile case with a lot of press coverage which is not something she is used to," he said.
Mr Shell said the council had a duty to bring cases such as this, but needed to investigate allegations more thoroughly. He said: "The Act is workable but it does require a lot of further and more thorough investigation. Whether the council have resources to do that I don't know, but there are other steps that could have been taken.
"The council have got a difficult job to do and they must have very significant concerns about the problems they are going to have."
Frances Eastmond, who chaired the magistrates, said: "We feel that the prosecution has not proved their case beyond reasonable doubt as they have been unable to prove that [Ms Challice] was responsible for the contamination in the green bins."
After yesterday's hearing, Pete Edwards, Exeter City Council's member for environment and leisure, said that although the council was disappointed with the outcome, it was pleased that the case had raised the profile of recycling.
"Although Parliament sets the law, it was down to Exeter City Council to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Ms Challice committed the offence," he said.
"We will not stop encouraging people to recycle and will continue to take action against anyone who contaminates their recycling bins. In Exeter we have a very straightforward kerbside recycling scheme which is easy to follow.''
He added: "Every day, thousands of people in the city diligently sort through their rubbish, separating residual waste from recyclables. It only takes one person to contaminate their green bin and we have to discard a whole lorry-load of recyclables. We cannot let the thoughtless minority spoil it for the selfless majority."
Britain's recycling rates are now steadily rising, after languishing for a long time near the bottom of the European recycling league. Latest figures show that households are recycling 23 per cent of their waste. Nine years ago the figure was just 7.5 per cent.Reuse content