Tom Sutcliffe: The littering that junk mail forces on us

Social Studies: Does a leaflet actually have to hit the floor before the subtle legal transformation between advertising and litter takes place?

Share
Related Topics

I experienced a modest pang of nostalgia on reading about the citizen activist who employed Section 91 of the 1990 Environmental Protection Act to force the Department of Transport to clear up the verges of the M40. I can't be absolutely sure, because it was some years ago now, but I think I once had a brief affair with this bit of legislative small print myself, when I lived close to a stretch of Islington pavement that was popular with fly-tippers.

Pleading with the council to come and clean away the eyesores proved only erratically successful, until I discovered the Litter Abatement Order, an obscure bit of red tape which only had to be lightly tugged to get the attention of whoever it was that sent out the clean-up crews. All you had to do was fax in the required notice that you were setting the legal wheels in motion – and usually within 24 hours the rubbish had gone. By the sound of it Peter Silverman had to go considerably further – actually getting to the stage of a court hearing. But in the end he prevailed – and, for a short while at least, you could eat your dinner off the verges of the M40.

Symptomatic relief only of course, since the underlying causes in each case (fly-tippers and oafish motorists) remained blithely out of reach of the Litter Abatement Order. As it happened, the report of Mr Silverman's heroic bit of I-know-my-rightsmanship coincided with a brief spike in litter in the road where I live – just the kind of thing to provoke a Litter Abatement Order letter, had it not been for the fact that the council had cleared it all away before I had time to get around to writing one. And the cause in this case made me wonder why the Environmental Protection Act doesn't cut out the middle men in such cases.

What had happened was a familiar enough occurrence in urban areas. A local business had sent someone down the road tucking a leaflet under every available windscreen wiper – most of which had ended up on the pavements, as a kind of oversized commercial confetti. And although individual motorists must have been involved in the transfer of the leaflets from windscreen (a private space?) to pavement (a public one), I couldn't help but feel that it was the business that had done the littering. I'd name and shame them, but for the fact that shame wouldn't be forthcoming and naming was what they were after in the first place.

Where do they stand in law I wonder? I've become reconciled to the fact that strangers are entitled to litter my hallway – and that while posting empty pizza cartons and flattened coke tins through my letterbox might be some sort of offence (would it?) it is perfectly legitimate to scatter pizza leaflets and takeaway menus across the floor. But what about the street outside? Does a leaflet actually have to hit the floor before the subtle legal transformation between advertising and litter takes place? Or does tucking it underneath a windscreen wiper count as private delivery? If not you hardly need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out where the buck stops – since getting the buck to stop at a particular address is the point of the exercise in the first place. Litter abatement orders are all very well – a useful crowbar to get a bureaucracy unstuck. But they're really being applied in the wrong place. We need something just as potent to stop the litter being printed and distributed in the first place.





Isn't it time the French dumped some manure?



It was strangely gratifying to learn that the French players had called a training strike in response to anxieties over their World Cup campaign – and not just because it's consoling to have company in misery. If the World Cup is about anything it's surely about the reinforcement of national stereotypes. Most of the commentators understand this – effortlessly hauling out the clichés of German technocratic efficiency and Brazilian rhythmic instinct when describing on-pitch action. But it's heartening to find a team committed to the principle too – ignoring special circumstances and reacting to adversity with the same Gallic verve that a disgruntled farmer or air-traffic controller would employ, should their interests be threatened.

Indeed it would be nice to see the team go further when they take to the field against South Africa: several tons of manure should be dumped on the halfway line and three tractors parked in the French goalmouth as an impromptu blockade. Some might argue that this would inflict needless misery on spectators who'd paid good money for the match, but, as anyone unfortunate enough to be on holiday in France during an industrial dispute would be able to tell you, irritating foreigners is just a kind of Dijon mustard to the dedicated gréviste. As for us – time for a bit of British spirit, the available flavours being Blitz or Dunkirk.





Disneyland of death



Staff at the Staglieno cemetery in Genoa are currently under suspicion of a ghoulish form of recycling – accused of stripping gold fillings and artificial limbs from corpses for their resale value. A local councillor hypothesised that the thefts were due to "psychological degradation" incurred by spending too much time around corpses. But it seems likelier that the staff in question just aren't paid enough – and found it grating that they were getting pennies for sweeping paths in a goldmine. No excuse for their solution, of course, but I have another one.

Everyone but relatives of the Staglieno's residents should be charged admission to this sadly under-exploited touristic resource. The Staglieno is one of the great cemeteries of the world, a Disneyland of wildly ill-judged funerary sculpture (such as the life-size memorial which captures the moment at which an interree was ravished by her top-hatted killer). True it can't boast quite as many celebrity dead as the Père Lachaise. But it makes up for that with an extravagance of melancholy style. It should be as much a fixture of any Italian tour as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Uffizi.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Helpdesk Team Leader / Manager

£45000 per annum + pension,medical: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable gl...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Project Manager

£35000 per annum + £5k bonus, car: Ashdown Group: A successful business that h...

IT Infrastructure Project Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A large and well established business is look...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes