Fly-tipping – time for a change?

With fly-tipping on the rise, Jason Mohr offers his suggestions for local authorities on how to cope with the challenge in the face of reduced budgets

The causes of and potential solutions for fly-tipping may be well-documented, but, unfortunately, the problem still persists. In fact, ever rising waste disposal costs, hikes in skip-hire permit prices, increases in council bulky waste collection charges and steadily reducing public services all look set to exacerbate the situation in coming years.

Last year’s 947,000 incidents of fly-tipping cost local authorities a staggering £46M in clear-up fees and a further £19M in enforcement proceedings. Over and above the negative social impact of fly-tipping, £65M is money that local authorities would probably prefer to spend on more pressing needs. So, what then can be done?

Most traditional solutions for reducing fly-tipping cost money. These include extending the opening hours of civic amenity sites to make them more accessible, and improving the response times and reducing the charges for council residential bulky waste collections.

Local authorities have also looked at installing CCTV and providing greater signage in fly tipping hot spots as well as stepping up spot checks of vehicles carrying waste, subsidising recyclable collections for businesses, and providing greater enforcement. All are great in theory, but, in practice, it is doubtful that local authorities could afford to implement them now that they are faced with funding cutbacks. So what is the alternative?

A more pragmatic approach is required, starting with a cut back on the amount spent by councils on enforcement and clearance of fly-tipping. Residents and businesses need to be told what the true costs of waste disposal and fly -ipping are. Local authorities also need to promote licensed and professional waste carriers and highlight the need for proper documentation to stamp out cowboy operators.

Despite local authorities spending £19M on enforcement proceedings, only 2,374 of the 947,000 incidents of fly tipping were successfully prosecuted, of which 50 or so led to custodial offences. In other words, if you fly-tip, you have a one-in-400 chance of getting prosecuted and, even if you do, the chances of going to prison are negligible.

A more effective use of money would be to fund a public awareness campaign. According to Defra, the average cost to local authorities nationally of clearing each incident of fly-tipping is £48.

AnyJunk carried out a survey of councils in 2010 using Freedom of Information requests and the results showed that a significant number of councils appeared to be paying ‘over the odds’ for their fly-tipped waste to be cleared – some paying more than £90 per collection.

While the costs should vary slightly due to factors like differing population density, surely more scrutiny should be given to ensuring that waste contracts are priced in line with market rates.

It would also help if the public was made aware of the true costs of waste disposal, so they know what to pay a legitimate waste carrier. Most residents are not aware that it costs around £100 after VAT to dispose of a tonne of waste (before labour and vehicle costs). Unlike businesses, residents are used to the council taking away their bins for free.

Despite the figures being in the public domain, it is doubtful that most members of the public know that last year local authorities spent £65M on clearing fly-tipped waste and prosecutions. Councils do not like to promote the fact that it is costing them so much – but if they did, residents might think twice about turning a blind eye when they see fly-tipping happening.

Communicating this figure to residents and businesses and providing guidance as to what is a reasonable commercial price to pay to have waste removed privately would help them spot a cowboy operator from a legitimate one. This, in turn, should help shift the onus of policing waste removal from the councils on to the general public.

It is important to highlight legitimate operators and practices. For members of the public, including businesses, the local authority website is often the first port of call for advice on how to get rid of waste. Some councils include contact details for local firms that offer waste collection and recycling, but why don’t they all?

If local authorities promoted service providers that they have verified as being professional and licensed, there would be less likelihood that residents and businesses would deal with rogue traders. Council websites should highlight the need for residents to check that a waste carrier is licensed with the Environmental Agency and businesses should always demand a waste transfer note.

A lack of perceived risks for offenders coupled with the escalating costs for disposal and reduced public services mean that, without change, fly-tipping will continue to increase. Faced with a backdrop of tightened purse strings, surely a strategy that encourages communities to police and take responsibility for fly-tipping is what is required?

Jason Mohr is managing director of AnyJunk

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