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Fly-tipping rise has serious environmental and economic consequences - we need regulatory overhaul

Credit: Adobe

Sam Corp, Head of Regulation | Environmental Services Association

3 min read Partner content

Offering criminals a low-risk, high-reward source of income, high levels of illegal dumping have exposed significant weaknesses in the current system.

Fly-tipping is one of the most common and pervasive environmental crimes which not only endangers the environment, but also has social, economic and health consequences too.

It is therefore all the more worrying that illegal dumping is on the rise and that it continues to offer criminals a low-risk, high-reward source of income.

Regulating against this behaviour and prosecuting offenders is challenging and, coupled with relatively low penalties even when an offender is convicted, makes fly-tipping an attractive proposition for criminals.

New figures released by Defra show that England alone fell victim to nearly a million fly-tipping incidents in 2019/20, which was an increase of two per cent on the previous year. Of these, 65% involved household waste, which equates to a 7% rise year on year.

Unfortunately, waste crime, including fly-tipping, is not reducing and has serious consequences for both the environment and for legitimate waste businesses.

The most common place for fly-tipping to occur is on pavements and roads, which accounted for more than two fifths (43%) of total incidents, while the volume of dumped rubbish is most typically equivalent to a ‘small van load’ or a ‘car boot’.

Defra’s figures also show that, although the number of fines issued by the courts increased by 30 per cent year on year in 2019/20, the total number of fines issued totalled just 2,671 – which is a drop in the ocean compared with the number of incidents.

This picture highlights the need for us all to be aware of our legal duty of care when having our waste collected by a third party – whether this is hiring a bin, a skip or a “man in a van” – to stop waste falling into the wrong hands in the first place.

The law requires anyone dealing with waste to keep it securely contained, retain relevant documentation and to make sure it’s dealt with responsibly and only given to businesses authorised to take it.

However, as the BBC’s recent Panorama investigation showed, the current system does not provide confidence that the ‘authorised’ company taking our waste away will manage it responsibly at all.

The programme, broadcast this week, highlighted an issue that ESA has been raising for many years – it is simply far too easy to obtain a ‘waste carriers’ registration from the Environment Agency and few or no background checks are carried out.

This has allowed unscrupulous operators, who merely dump the waste collected, to undermine legitimate operators and demonstrates significant weaknesses in the current system.

ESA recognises that Defra has been working to reform the system, to include more rigorous front-end checks, competency requirements and mandatory electronic waste tracking.

Such reforms are precisely what ESA and others have been calling for, but we are keen to see quicker progress, resulting in far-reaching changes to keep waste out of the hands of waste criminals and to enable householders and businesses to have confidence that the ‘registered waste carrier’ they use will act responsibly and lawfully.

Unfortunately, waste crime, including fly-tipping, is not reducing and has serious consequences for both the environment and for legitimate waste businesses.

Previous research undertaken by ESA in 2017 showed that waste crime, in all its forms, was costing the UK economy up £1 billion every year.

ESA is due to publish further independent research later this year exploring the incidence of waste crime and its economic impact, which we hope will provide a better understanding of the scale of the problem today, as well as to encourage greater momentum in proposed government policy changes and tougher enforcement.



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