Councils are recruiting residents to report anyone who drops litter, fails to recycle their rubbish properly, or who allows their dog to foul the streets.
Advertisements looking for people to sign up for the unpaid “environmental volunteer” jobs have been posted across the country in recent months.
Critics said the scheme is encouraging a Big Brother society where friends and neighbours will be encouraged to “snoop” on one another.
The recruitment drive follows news that the Home Office is granting police powers to council staff and private security guards, allowing then to hand out fines for low-scale offences and ask for personal details.
Matthew Elliott, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Snooping on your neighbours to report recycling infringements sounds like something straight out of the East German Stasi’s copybook.
“With council tax so high, the last thing people want to pay for is an army of busybodies peering through their net curtains at their neighbours as they put out their rubbish.”
Eastleigh council, in Hampshire, has said it wants residents to “monitor local environmental quality” to combat issues involving recycling and waste.
The local authority has already employed about a dozen people who answered an advert in a council newsletter which said: “Volunteers will be involved in reporting issues in their area such as recycling, waste, fly-tipping, graffiti, dog fouling and abandoned vehicles”.
And the borough of Tower Hamlets, in east London, is advertising for similar roles within its environmental department, while other councils are expected to follow suit.
The volunteers are not asked directly to spy on neighbours, but they are encouraged not to ignore tip-offs.
A spokesman for Tower Hamlets said: “These are all people who care about the environment and they will be ambassadors for their area.
“They will be there to report graffiti, abandoned vehicles and local vandalism, but not to report on other individuals.”
“And they might go to an over-60s club and talk about recycling.”
The Local Government Association said: “Environment volunteers care passionately about their area and want to protect it.
“They are not snoopers. They will help councils cut crime and make places cleaner, greener and safer.”
By Lucy Cockcroft
Last Updated: 3:06AM BST 31 Aug 2008