Welsh councils spend millions of pounds picking litter off the side of roads. It is a very labour intensive and expensive process and few people are caught for the crime which is difficult to police and dangerous to clean up.

The Welsh Government plans to change the law to fine vehicle owners to make it easier to catch offenders. The owner would be punished, regardless of whether they threw the litter, or were even in the car at the time.

Councils are responsible for cleaning roads, with the Welsh Government responsible for major routes including the M4 and a short section of A55. In Merthyr Tydfil alone the council spent over £2.6m cleaning up litter from roadsides between March 2015 and March 2019. This includes the costs of closing stretches of road, overtime, equipment to protect workers and lighting.

Despite this, not a single person in the county borough was fined for throwing litter out of a vehicle.

The New Law

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The new law will state that it is a criminal offence to throw litter out of a vehicle and you could ultimately be prosecuted and fined up to £2,500 if caught.

Most councils issue fixed penalty notices if they believe someone has littered, asking the DVLA for motorists' details.  But if the owner does not pay up or tell the authorities who threw the litter from the vehicle, problems begin. Under current legislation the council would have to have seen the littering take place, and then identify and prove which person in the vehicle had thrown it in court.

Unlike police, council workers have no powers to follow or stop vehicles and some rural areas are too vast to monitor. As the registered keeper is not legally required to identify who threw the litter, some councils are not using their powers in the first place.

The Welsh Government wants to give councils additional powers so they could fine the owner of the vehicle. Unlike a fixed penalty - a criminal fine - this would be a civil fine, and the council would not have to prove which person threw the litter. The registered keeper of the vehicle is legally responsible and they could be fined even if they were not in the vehicle at the time.

Following in the same footsteps

A similar system is already in operation in London.

In Cardiff hundreds of bags worth of litter are picked up by council workers every year from the side of slip roads and motorways. Highways staff said they knew of workers in parts of the UK who had been hit by cars - with some killed.

This could make real change to the roads, especially preventing dangerous and harmful roadside littering which effectively puts highway workers at risk across the UK. The Welsh Government says enforcement was only part of the solution and behaviour needed to change.