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COPLAR - Frequently Asked Questions

Note: This does not constitute legal advice, instead it provides a guide for duty holders. It is up to duty holders to identify the relevant legislation for their requirements and seek advice from their own solicitors if needed.

What is the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (CoPLAR)?

CoPLAR is a statutory guidance document providing a framework to support duty holders to meet their duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) Section 89 (1) and (2). Duty holders must have regard to CoPLAR when discharging their duties and it is admissible as evidence in court proceedings if a body is taken to court for dereliction of its duties.

CoPLAR has been reviewed and a new version was adopted in 2018. It has been updated to align with the National Litter Strategy – Towards a Litter-Free Scotland and provide more clarity on a number of areas. The new approach puts prevention activity on an equal footing with cleansing, providing the opportunity for duty holders to take a holistic approach to addressing the issues of littering and flytipping.

How will CoPLAR help achieve behaviour change and encourage personal responsibility as a norm?

CoPLAR 2018 supports the National Litter Strategy and its aims of litter prevention and increased personal responsibility.  A focus on prevention provides duty holders with the opportunity to change their operations – moving away from reacting to issues by clearing up to engage in more proactive activities that encourage behaviour change and complement interventions being delivered in other areas.

What is the legislative ask on duty holders?

Environmental Protection Act 1990 section 89 places two duties on Duty Bodies and Statutory Undertakers:

  1. to keep relevant land clear of litter and refuse as far as is practicable and
  2. to keep relevant roads clean as far as is practicable

    More detailed information on the duties and who is responsible can be found here.


What type of land is in scope of the duties?

Clarity on the definition of relevant land is provided in CoPLAR 2018, highlighting that all relevant land of duty holders is in scope. A number of factors determine if land is classed as relevant land: generally it is publicly accessible land that is open to the air on at least one side and is under the control of one of the duty holders

It can include roads, pavements, walkways, verges, embankments, parks, open spaces, land covered by water e.g. canals, ponds and much more. It also extends to land which is open to the air but is not publicly accessible for certain railway tracks and educational land.

How do you define ‘as far as is practicable’?

As far as is practicable means that duty holders should put in place all reasonable measures to meet their duties within the timescales given. It’s up to the duty holder to ensure that appropriate resources are put in place. 

Some conditions or situations can make meeting the timescales impracticable. These could include:

  • Extreme weather
  • Accessibility
  • Regard to other legislation needs to be taken into account

However it would be for the courts to decide on a case by case basis what may be deemed impracticable.

Which materials need to be removed in order to meet the duties?

For duty 1, duty holders need to keep land clear of litter and refuse:

Litter is considered to be “waste in the wrong place” where individual or a small number of items are thrown down, dropped or deposited in a public place by any person and is left there or materials that escape from collection containers or vehicles.

Refuse should be regarded as waste material or rubbish, including household and commercial waste, flytipped waste, dog faeces, animal carcasses and car parts. Refuse tends to be larger items than litter.

For duty 2, as well as keeping land clear of litter and refuse Local Authorities and Scottish Ministers are required to keep roads clean. As minimum this means free from detritus for the purposes of this duty. 

Detritus can include dust, mud, soil, grit, gravel, stones, rotted vegetation, and fragments of twigs, glass, plastic and other materials which can become finely divided. Leaf and blossom falls are to be regarded as detritus once they have substantially lost their structure and have become mushy or fragmented.

What is an acceptable standard?

The duty is to keep land clear of litter and refuse or roads clean, so to achieve this lland and roads should meet the grade A standard as far as is practicable.

How do grades link to implementation of prevention measures and restoration times?

Grades allow organisations to more accurately assess how far from the grade A standard the land has fallen and how quickly it should be restored.

Quantitative descriptions for each grade improve the consistency of how grading is applied across the country and allows additional information to be gathered to help inform targeted prevention.

Why is land zoned?

Zoning helps duty holders to prioritise when and where to deploy resources. Zones are applied to all relevant land of a duty holder and are based on how likely it is that litter and refuse will build up in an area depending on the number of people/vehicles using the area and the types of premises in the area that may contribute to litter.

Coupled with grades and response times, they provide duty holders with a framework within which to evaluate their performance and take action.

How are zones allocated and why do they have different response times?

Land is split into zones depending on the likelihood of litter and refuse occurring in an area. This is determined by two common factors – the intensity of footfall/traffic and the number of premises which may lead to litter generation. 

The speed at which litter and refuse accumulates influences how quickly an area needs to be restored. Response times are based on several factors:

  • Investment in preventative activity
  • The amount of the litter or the grade of an area - i.e. the more litter, the quicker it should be restored
  • The potential for litter to be generated based on the zone category for the area
  • Any special considerations in relation to health and safety

If there is a one off special event which increases footfall in an area, should the land be rezoned?

There is no need to formally rezone the area of land, however for the duration of the event the land manager and organisers should have regard to the response times for the zone which matches the expected footfall and potential litter sources in the area.

It is also recommended that the event organiser works with local partners to put a litter prevention plan in place. More information can be found in our litter prevention checklist.

Why is there a focus on prevention?

Litter and refuse in the environment should not be deposited there in the first place, it is up to individuals to dispose of their waste responsibly. Currently £1million per week is spent on clearing up a problem that doesn’t need to exist, this money could be better used elsewhere.

In the long-term, prevention means that areas will stay litter and refuse free for longer allowing these resources to be used in other areas.

Duty holders are encouraged to adopt prevention activities and shift resources towards preventative ways of working. Prevention tactics should be implemented as part of a range of measures to keep land clear of litter and refuse.

Duty holders are encouraged to monitor land to provide data to help inform preventative action, allowing source and context specific issues to be targeted using evidence to identify the cause of the issue.

What is classed as prevention?

Prevention means measures taken to prevent litter and refuse occurring in the first place. There are high level prevention measures defined in the code of practice, more detailed examples and guidance on prevention can be found in the Litter Knowledge Network

How will budgets be linked to prevention activity?

It will be up to the duty holder to define how much they are currently spending on each activity defined in the revised code. Duty holders should consider what their organisation as a whole is doing to prevent litter and refuse this can be taken into account as well, not just the department responsible for clearing litter. 

What are the requirements for monitoring land to ensure it is kept clear of litter and refuse?

An enhanced monitoring system is being developed to align with CoPLAR. This will allow more consistent data to be gathered to measure levels of litter and other environmental quality issues.

All duty holders should monitor their land on a regular basis to ensure compliance with their statutory duties, this can be done on a day to say basis through their own reporting mechanisms. 

The Improvement Service have an indicator for Local Authorities to report their cleanliness scores. Other organisations may have internal reporting mechanisms or targets. It is recommended that duty holders should publish data to show they are fulfilling their duties.

To progress through the prevention bandings, duty holders must be able to provide evidence that their land is being maintained to an acceptable standard.

Furthermore, gathering intelligence will assist in the planning, delivery and evaluation of targeted initiatives to prevent litter and refuse occurring and help to optimise cleansing operations.

What are the consequences of not complying with the duties?

If they are not complying with the duties, duty holders can be taken to court by members of the public, or by a primary litter authority, under sections 91 and 92 of the EPA 1990.

CoPLAR provides guidance to duty holders and is admissible as evidence in court proceedings if a body is taken to court for dereliction of its duties. Courts must take it into account in legal proceedings where it is relevant.

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