Councils often spark a bit of controversy when it comes to charging hefty fines for seemingly harmless offences.
Whether it’s ordering a five-year-old girl to pay £150 for setting up a lemonade stall, or threatening to charge a pensioner for cutting his grass outside his home – contentious decisions are never far away.
And so it was with Neil Masey, who was ordered to pay £600 after council enforcers caught him recycling a cardboard box and a plastic bottle at a shopping centre in Brighton.
Unfortunately for him, Brighton and Hove City Council said the rubbish from his business making vegan beard products was ‘clearly trade waste’.
If the 54-year-old, who is a vegan himself, doesn’t pay up within 14 days, the fines will increase to £2,000.
Mr Masey could also face prosecution if he continues to refuse the fine. He says it’s ‘absolutely outrageous’ to suggest he needs a commercial waste collection as Mr Masey’s Emporium Of Beards ‘generates virtually no waste’.
He makes his vegan beard oils and moustache waxes on a rented workbench within a small gift shop close to Brighton beach.
By the end of the week, he said he usually has one to two cardboard boxes and the odd five-litre plastic bottle left to recycle. Everything else is reused.
As he took a cardboard box and a 30ml plastic bottle to the Marina shopping centre last week, he noticed a council officer ‘ferret in the bins and fish them out’.
He was told that as the rubbish was ‘trade waste’, he needed a commercial collection service, which can cost hundreds of pounds, and he would need a certificate to prove it is being recycled responsibly.
Without it, he would be fined £300 per item.
He said: ‘It’s a complete con. I make my own sandwiches daily and I like a nice packet of crisps.
‘I am told that technically, the waste has been generated at my rented bench and therefore it’s commercial waste.
‘So taking that crisp packet home and putting it in my bin is also, technically, a criminal offence.
‘Shall I write a cheque out for all the daily £300 fines I’ve accrued for my daily crisp addiction?’
A council spokesperson said all businesses are ‘required by law’ to dispose of their waste through a contractor.
The spokesperson added: ‘The misuse of council owned bins costs us hundreds of thousands of pounds each year which is why we introduced enforcement to tackle this problem.
‘Any business found to be using council bins illegally will face a Fixed Penalty Notice which, if left unpaid, could lead to prosecution.’
Mr Masey is refusing to pay the fines and will likely go to court as he says the ‘appeal process is non-existent’.
He added: ‘It feels like yet another way of taxing already hard-pushed local businesses.’