Time to target the drug pushers of fly-tipping

Punishing those who illegally dump waste will never solve the problem - you have to confront the waste producers and increase visibility at the point of disposal, argues Phil Conran

Fly-tipping is on the increase and likely to increase further as landfill tax rises and issues such as the recent trommel fines furore impact on the cost of skip hire.

There tends to be two types of fly-tipping. The small quantity householder or jobbing trader tips, largely dealt with by local authorities – these rarely hit the headlines. And then there are the big ones, as often as not, the result of serious organised crime carried out in the knowledge that the rewards will nearly always outweigh the risks.

Whilst the former are often visually more damaging – fridges left in laybys, mattresses in field gateways – it is the latter which pose the biggest risk to the environment and get the publicity, as demonstrated by the recent Panorama documentary on waste tyres.

The Environment Agency (EA) has had some high profile prosecution successes although they freely acknowledge that they have only hit the tip of the iceberg. And even when they do achieve a successful prosecution, the sentences meted out by the courts seem hardly to reflect either the scale of the crime or the rewards.

But are they really targeting the right people? At a recent lawyer’s workshop, the Principal Lawyer for the EA was asked why waste producers never seem to get prosecuted when their waste ends up being fly-tipped. His answer was that their only legal duty was to ensure they gave their waste to a registered waste carrier and that the EA’s key priority was to target illegal disposal. Is this not like targeting the drug users and not the pushers?

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes it very clear that a waste producer has a legal duty to ensure that their waste is properly managed down the chain of disposal. What is not so clear is how far down that chain they should go.

S34 states that “it shall be the duty of any person who imports, produces, carries, keeps, treats or disposes of controlled waste or, as a broker, has control of such waste, to take all such measures applicable to him in that capacity as are reasonable in the circumstance (a)to prevent any contravention by any other person of section 33 (proper disposal) above”. And yet, in all the cases of fly-tipping reported in the EA archives, there is not one case of a waste producer being prosecuted.

Part of the problem must lie with the UK’s extremely weak waste transfer note (WTN) system – so weak, it seems, that the Government has decided to scrap it in its Red Tape Challenge. The WTN only shows the waste producer who is collecting their waste – although in many cases involving brokers, it doesn’t even do that.

There is no visibility on the disposal point, leaving it to a very confused due diligence process to identify if the waste is being properly disposed of. Rather than scrap it, should the Government not be tightening it and putting in place a similar system to continental waste management where producers have to sign a document that shows the disposal point, similar to our consignment note system for hazardous waste?

This would make it easier for the agencies to prosecute against false declarations and in this electronic age, could surely be applied with minimal bureaucracy.

Phil Conran is director at 360 Environmental

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