Litter louts will be hit with even tougher penalties as part of a hard-hitting initiative aimed at cleaning up Northern Ireland's rubbish-strewn streets.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has vowed to clamp down on offenders after a survey revealed streets are dirtier than at any time in the last four years.
Despite millions of pounds being spent by councils on clean-ups, Tidy NI found that litter had increased with around 14% of streets failing to meet basic cleanliness standards.
Mr Attwood said litter is affecting people's quality of life, and has vowed to take tougher action against those responsible.
His plans include:
- Heavier spot fines for offenders, which will rise from £50 to £75.
- Councils to have greater powers to force people to clean up areas which they control.
- People who distribute leaflets in towns and cities to be required to get prior approval.
- More support for the eco-schools project which educates children about waste.
Tidy NI's survey examined streets in all 26 council areas across Northern Ireland.
Nearly every street surveyed had litter present, with cigarette butts, discarded confectionery and drinks bottles accounting for most of the rubbish. Incidents of dog fouling also increased sharply.
The number of streets failing to reach acceptable standards rose from 8% to 14%, the survey said.
Mr Attwood said: "Litter affects the quality of our lives and it affects the experiences of tourists who will come here and comment about the issue. It is something that, individually and as communities, we need to have more discipline over."
He warned that those responsible will pay for their actions.
Under the Clean Neighbourhood act, spot fines will be increased from £50 to at least £75.
Councils will receive powers to force people to clean up areas.
He added: "We're giving more bite to the law and to the penalties. It is up to the councils to use these new powers, and enforce them against those who are offending.
"Whilst we are getting better at dealing with the issue of litter, especially children and the younger generation, in order to fundamentally change people's behaviour we need the right law and the right enforcement."
He also pledged more money for eco-schools, an environmental programme aimed at making children more aware of green issues.
Chris Allen of Tidy NI, said: "We welcome the measures that the minister has put forward and hopefully they will act as a deterrent and encourage people to take more pride in their communities."
He added: "Litter is a crime of apathy. People just think it doesn't matter, but it really does.
"One or two pieces of litter quickly become five or 10, then the next thing it becomes fly-tipping."
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, also backed Mr Attwood.
He said: "Dirty, litter-strewn streets form the first impression of Northern Ireland to visiting tourists and shoppers and will clearly deter them from returning.
"While we welcome the Environment Minister's commitment to give local councils more powers to address this problem, it needs the community as a whole to have a major change in attitude that littering in any shape or form is unacceptable."
Litter survey's key findings:
- 14% of streets failed to meet acceptable standards, nearly double last year's 8% figure.
- The cost of street cleansing has risen 20% between 2008 and 2009 and now stands at £34million.
- The top three types of litter found were cigarette rubbish, confectionery and drinks litter.
- Dog fouling was recorded in 15% of areas studied - a big increase from last year.