Pest control

Fly-tipping in Birmingham was threatening to get out of hand before Operation Cleansweep. Peter McCrum looks at its success

On 3 June 2003,Thomas Kevin Duffy was stopped at a vehicle checkpoint manned by the police, council officials and Environment Agency enforcement officers. Duffy was transporting scrap metal to a recycling facility, and when asked to produce registration documents could not do so.

So, on 19 April this year, he found himself in Birmingham Magistrates Court charged with carrying waste without a licence. He pleaded guilty, was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200 costs.

Duffy had been caught by Operation Cleansweep, a multi-agency taskforce set up to tackle fly-tipping and nab unregistered waste carriers. Over 250 vehicles have been stopped in the Birmingham area of which 78 were unregistered. Of those, most have applied for registration. Those that haven’t will find themselves in court.

An aggressive and proactive approach

Over 34,000t of fly-tipped waste are removed from the streets of Birmingham each year and the council has to field over 12,000 complaints from angry residents. Apart from health and safety issues, unlicensed waste carriers threaten the business of legitimate operators.

Simon Cooper, a team leader at Birmingham City Council, acted as the liaison officer between the council, the Environment Agency and the police for Operation Cleansweep: “We felt that fly-tipping was a serious issue and it was something that the residents of Birmingham had highlighted as a problem, so we decided to go after the unregistered waste carriers. We’ve had some very positive feedback, not just from residents but also from the ODPM and DEFRA.” Each unlicensed waste carrier was served with a producer notice and asked to register within seven days. “The vast majority of them registered after being stopped, and in this respect we feel that it’s been incredibly worthwhile. We are planning another four exercises in the coming year,” he says.

A feared increase in fly-tipping

Cooper is concerned that the EU Landfill Directive will lead to an increase in fly-tipping. However, he believes that through their presence on the streets of Birmingham, potential fly-tippers will think twice before dumping unlicensed waste. “Hopefully these people now realise that Birmingham is not a place where fly-tipping will be tolerated,” says Cooper. “The initiative is high profile – the checkpoints are sited on all the main roads coming into the city. Waste carriers know we’re carrying out these checks.”

Sarah Cook, environment manager team leader for the Environment Agency in Birmingham was concerned by the organised nature of some fly-tipping. Pursuing these gangs and bringing prosecutions was proving to be costly in terms of time and resources. “Rather than investigating after the event, we felt we needed to do something to demonstrate our commitment to the issue. Operation Cleansweep provided that opportunity.”

Targeting hotspots

Fly-tippers should beware of continuing their activities in Birmingham. Cook says the Environment Agency is talking to police about updating its surveillance equipment. “We’ve got funds we can access to purchase CCTV, surveillance cameras and tracking equipment that can be used to track waste. A lot more of the work that we’ll be doing will be surveillance led – targeting fly-tipping hotspots.” Cook also mentions ‘tracker stings’ where the Agency will be auditing people who collect waste: “We will be asking people who advertise in the local press to come and collect waste in which we have planted tracking devices, to make sure they are taking it to a legitimate waste operation.”

The results of Operation Cleansweep are already apparent and the agencies concerned are committed to continuing and stepping up their efforts to tackle this problem head on.

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