Fly tipping is something of a tradition in the UK. In the 1700s the River Fleet, in London, was so filled with waste that the authorities chose to simply turn it into a closed sewer in an attempt to stop people throwing household waste and dead animals into it. The tradition continues today and across the UK local authorities remain responsible for coming up with innovative solutions to clearing up other people’s mess. Plagues of black bin liners, pre-loved fridges, mountains of building rubble and the occasional stash of lethal asbestos continue to adorn the highways and byways of the UK.
A Troubled and Troubling Landscape
It’s a perennial problem and one that doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. Apart from a landscape strewn with bin-liners there is also a land-scape strewn with funding cuts to contend with, for the authorities that have to deal with the problem at least. As central government continues to cut local authority funding, the cost of fly tipping is becoming an increasingly big issue for local councils and finding innovative ways to address the situation and pass the buck back to those responsible for the waste becomes more pressing than ever.
Fly Tipping Facts
- The year 2013/14 saw a 20 per cent increase in the reported incidents of fly tipping, with two thirds of the waste being domestic refuse, the increase followed several years in which a decrease had been reported.
- 47 per cent of incidents occur on or adjacent to highways, with other locations including bridleways, footpaths and alleyways accounting for 29 per cent of incidents.
- In 2013/14 estimated costs for clearance ran to £45.2 million – a 24 per cent increase on the previous year, while enforcement actions came to an estimated £17.3 million.
- While “single bag” incidents are common, 2013/14 saw a rise in reported incidents involving larger quantities. Fly tipping amounts range from a single bag up to full tipper loads, although medium sized loads account for around a third of incidents.
- The number of white goods (fridges being a common item) dumped rose by 152 per cent on the previous year from 13,000 reports to 34,000.
Who’s In Charge?
In general, the responsibility for clearing illegally dumped waste lies with local authorities. The Environment Agency will normally become involved with only the more serious cases – particularly organized illegal waste tipping operations and in cases of pollution on a larger scale. Both local authorities and the Environment Agency can prosecute but in many cases, particularly the most common type of cases, it’s down to local authorities to clear up and dispose of any items illegally dumped. This year’s rise in costs demonstrates well the burden that this responsibility puts on councils. While incidents have risen by 20 per cent, the cost of dealing with these incidents has risen by 24 per cent. In the case of English councils finding the funds to deal with the issue could prove increasingly difficult, with extra cuts to funding announced on 18th December 2014 averaging 1.8 per cent – with some councils facing cuts of even 6.4 per cent. So in summary the costs are increasing and the budget is decreasing!
Common Ways to Deal with Fly Tipping
Fly tipping is common in all areas of the UK whether rural or urban and poses distinct problems in each type of area. In urban areas some districts have high proportions of flats and transient residents who either don’t know, or understand, local waste collection times and regulations. This means that single black bags (and lots of them) may form unsightly piles on a regular basis. In more rural areas, commons, bridleways and roadsides can be subject to suddenly sprouting unexpected heaps of rubbish. In these cases tipping may be less through ignorance and more by intent. In all cases finding cost effective ways to deal with the issue has become an increasing priority.
- Foot Patrols – some councils have employed these for many years and others employ regular or part-time officers to monitor known black (bag) spots. These can be effective in dealing promptly with the issue and catching the offenders. Officers aren’t above donning gloves to check through bags to find evidence of the former owner of the unwanted rubbish. Foot patrols can be effective but are costly in terms of time and staffing resources. Mostly they are also restricted to urban environments where the chance of catching offenders in the act is higher. They have the advantage of raising the profile of the problem and helping to educate the public in responsible waste disposal.
- CCTV cameras are the next and probably most favoured option. Traditionally, fixed security and existing CCTV systems have been employed to monitor for fly tipping and many councils have used them for several years. They can be deployed in known trouble-spots, if necessary and are ideal for gathering evidence as well as helping councils respond quickly to incidents and remove rubbish from the streets. Again fixed CCTV is ideal in urban locations.
- The latest development in the CCTV world is the covert and portable option like the J-Cam, from Tag Guard. These systems offer the most in terms of flexibility. In many locations, often in rural settings, a small pile of fly-tipped waste can rapidly grow. Mobile and self-contained units which are also disguised can help to nip the problem in the bud quickly. The advantages are obvious in more difficult to police locations as covert cameras can be deployed anywhere to help clean up the act of unwanted tippers. Many systems can be combined with intruder alert systems, again, great for quieter areas and use GPRS to allow remote monitoring.
The costs of fly tipping and the increasingly small pool of resources with which to deal with the issue will almost certainly continue to be a headache for both local authorities and the Environment Agency. However, innovate, flexible and easily deployed monitoring systems, addressing the problem in a thoroughly 21st century way can make all the difference.