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Fly-tipping's fleeting moment in the media spotlight

In the final hours of the general election, the problem of fly-tipping was featured on the BBC Today radio programme. At last! Sanchia Berg’s report took in the blight on rural areas such as the New Forest and the appalling dump alongside the A40 in Buckinghamshire – accounting for around a quarter of the county council’s ‘normal’ annual tally.

The issue was raised by listeners who were nominating concerns not being aired by politicians during the campaign. The absence of waste crime (in general) from the main political agenda is no great surprise, but I remain convinced it will not stay so low-profile for long.

Fly-tipping has increased in each of the past three years and, in the absence of new policies or greater attention to existing ones, it is likely to continue to do so.

In October 2015, this column was expecting the double-whammy of local authority spending cuts and low prices for secondary materials to make fly-tipping an embarrassment for ministers at some point during the Parliamentary term. The general election cut short that period but the potential worry for new ministers clearly remains.

Berg’s report on the Today programme was focused – as is often the case in mainstream media – on outcome rather than cause. Fly-tipping was portrayed as a danger to ponies, a clear-up cost to the council and, invariably, a blot on the landscape.

Crooks find it too easy to take people’s money to dispose of their waste before they either dump it, build illegal stockpiles of tonnes of waste on other people’s property or in quasi-legal operations. One of the reasons it is so easy to do is because so few individuals or businesses understand their duty of care, let alone observe it.

A couple of tweets from me after the programme, noting an absence of any reference to duty of care, produced an understandable response from Stuart Hayward-Higham, Suez’s technical development director. As he pointed out: “Fly-tipping & illegal waste activity is abhorrent but householders & good contractors need help to navigate the materials nexus complexity”.

That complexity is certainly a challenge for individual householders and small businesses, and that is where the industry’s ’Right Waste, Right Place’ campaign can make a difference.

But too many businesses do not do enough. The Environment Agency’s former deputy director of waste and illegals, Mat Crocker, told MRW in March that, if all legitimate waste profes­sionals did only the simple things well in relationship to their duty of care, then there would be far fewer waste crimes committed.

“The professional resources industry has no excuses when it comes to com­plying with what are simple requirements: ensuring the waste they control does not end up causing a problem fur­ther – whether that be illegally dumped, exported or sent to permitted sites that are in breach of permit conditions.”

Better communication, even greater enforcement, and engagement from the next set of relevant ministers will all help to stop fly-tipping and other waste crime blighting communities.

 

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