Fly-tipping is a crime committed by a lazy, inconsiderate, and irresponsible few. The illegal dumping of mass waste is insidious to our countryside, and we must do all we can to prevent it.
In recent news, Doncaster Council plans to shut tip sites for eight weeks for ‘essential repairs’. We can now expect a surge in fly-tipping. As I will explain, the exact opposite must be done in order to tackle this issue.
The law on fly-tipping is clear. Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 sets out:
“A person shall not… deposit controlled waste, or knowingly cause or knowingly permit controlled waste to be deposited in or on any land unless a waste management licence authorising the deposit is in force and the deposit is in accordance with the licence”
Why do people fly-tip? The most convincing reason is that people naturally choose paths of least resistance.
The usual channel to dump waste is through one’s local Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC). This presents fly-tippers with the following logistical hurdles: finding your local HWRC and it’s working times; understanding what waste-material goes where (if permitted at all); transporting that waste, and securing an appropriate permit (if your vehicle, or lack thereof, necessitates one).
Alternatively, one can dump it elsewhere. Conveniently, elsewhere can be anywhere. And ultimately, anywhere can be the path of least resistance, despite government and local authority efforts.
What the Government have been doing:
- The Government’s April 2017 Litter Strategy for England.
- Introduced fixed penalty notices for small-scale fly-tipping offences
- Introduced the power to seize vehicles for fly-tipping.
- Developed new sentencing guidelines to provide tougher sentences for fly-tipping.
- Produced guidance for local authorities on their responsibilities regarding fly-tipping.
- The Environment Bill 2020 will create provisions to allow for the introduction of digital waste tracking in Great Britain, and to create associated criminal offences (punishable by a fine) and civil penalties.
Despite a mounting effort by the Government to tackle fly-tipping, incidents do not appear to be falling. In 2019/20, there were 976,000 fly-tipping incidents reported, a 2 per cent increase from 957,00 in 2018/19.
The Government has seemingly opted for the stick over the carrot in its approach to fly-tipping. This particular stick hits hard, as fly-tippers can be met with fines of £50,000 or 12 months of imprisonment.
Yet the stick lacks the reach and agility for it to be a sufficient deterrent. Like all crime, fly-tipping occurs covertly; away from cameras or witnesses. If local authorities are to create a sufficient deterrent, fly-tippers must know that local authorities can fulfil their responsibility to investigate and prosecute the incident. Seemingly, however, this is not the case.
“Investigations have consistently been the most common action taken against fly-tipping
incidents over time, accounting for 62% of all actions in 2019/20″, suggesting that many of these investigations have led to too little.
Cameras, physical barriers, and other defences cannot comprehensively prevent fly-tipping. Fly-tippers will naturally move to the next dump spot that is free of impediment. Subsequently, this necessitates the impractical task of defending and monitoring all dump-vulnerable spots. This approach will cost more than the problem itself, and an alternative is preferable.
The alternative to making fly-tipping more challenging is making dumping at your local HWRC less challenging.
In 2019/20, the value of fly-tipping fines totalled £1.17 million, equalling only a tenth of the £10.9 million (this only includes incidents of ‘tipper lorry load size or larger’) worth of clearance costs local authorities had to pay as a result. A net-loss.
Free curbside collections is one approach in achieving this, as this would negate the financial and practical inconveniences that otherwise dissuade some from legally dumping.
Curbside collections is a service that many local authorities already offer. This service should be upgraded, simplified, and de-monetised.
Doncaster Council offers collection services for ‘bulky’ items only, such as mattresses or fridges. Yet, nearly two thirds of fly-tips involved household waste. Oppositely, Doncaster Council may refuse to collect items considered too bulky. Fly-tippers do not exclusively dump items that fit conveniently into their local authority’s categorisations. Both a quality and a quantity of rubbish falls beyond the purview of the service and as a result, people turn to fly-tipping.
Consequently, it is cheaper and more effective to make legal dumping accessible to all then it is to deter, defend against, and prosecute fly-tippers.