Last year over 1,240 fixed penalty notices were slapped on households for breaking recycling rules and not putting out rubbish correctly. Some of the fines were in the region of £110, which is more than the £80 spot fine the police issue for shoplifting.

The Sunday Telegraph contacted all the 358 English local authorities about this issue. Of the 207 responses they obtained 40 councils said they had issued 1,247 fixed penalties in the year. In the case last week of Daphne Thompson of Canterbury a £700 fine plus court costs was given out for putting rubbish in the wrong sacks.

On top of this councils have sent out 24,914 statutory notices that threaten fines and 45,010 warning letters.

Each council is responsible for setting their own recycling policy and it can be confusing to many. Especially where you need nine different bins to comply such as in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Recycling rules are set in response to EU legislation aimed at reducing landfill.

The director of Big Brother Watch, Alex Deane, told the Telegraph "This is an absurdly high prosecution rate for such a minor crime. Councils introduced absurdly complex new rules about rubbish, and their bin spies hammer residents when they innocently get it wrong. Overbearing behaviour like this from councils isn't really about recycling – it's about council revenue raising. It must stop."

The new coalition government is already looking at reducing or scrapping many of the more draconian powers handed to local authorities by the last Labour government.

There is no doubt that we need to be cleverer with our dealing with household waste. It is probably extremely sensible that recycling takes place and that there should be rules in place to cover it. But what has happened in the UK is a neat sidestepping of the issue by central government. The rules are imposed on us by the EU but then left to local officials to implement it on an ad hoc basis across the country. Surely that can’t be right if it’s so important that people can be fined hundreds of pounds over it?

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