Number of penalties for littering must rise substantially to have any effect
Littering habits in Northern Ireland are a disgrace. Far too many people think it acceptable to drop cigarette butts, chuck away crisp packets or throw fast food containers and drinks bottles out the car window.
Tidy Northern Ireland's forthcoming litter survey shows more than one in every 10 streets failing to meet cleanliness standards. Every year such behaviour is costing us £40m to clean up and more in lost income as tourists stay away and businesses invest elsewhere.
Thankfully, we have very good laws that can be used to deter anti-social individuals from their loutish behaviour. These are pulled together under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (NI) 2011 and support councils in, for example, issuing fixed penalty notices to people caught littering.
Councils have the freedom to set (within limits) how much litterers must pay and whether to offer an early payment discount.
This has led to some discrepancies in what people pay when issued with a fixed penalty notice, but to get caught up in this argument misses the point.
What should really concern us is the small number of fixed penalties being issued.
With a few exceptions, there is just too little chance of being caught littering, meaning there is no credible deterrent in place.
Where efforts are being made these are not being backed up by neighbouring councils, giving mixed messages and making enforcement a postcode lottery.
We need a clear, consistent message. The number of fixed penalty notices issued needs to rise substantially if it is to have any effect on behaviour.
Ian Humphries is chief executive of Tidy Northern Ireland