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Charges may not be to blame for fly-tipping increase

Victoria Hutchin

Fly-tipping has been the focus of much media attention in recent months, with the pre-Christmas local authority crackdown on fly-tippers and the Government’s recent release of the official 2015-16 fly-tipping figures. The number of incidents recorded in England has risen for the third year in a row and in 2015-16 the number rose 6% to more than 936,000.

Local authorities have had powers since May 2016 to issue £400 on-the-spot fines to fly-tippers caught in the act. Between May and December, a total of 1,353 fixed penalties had been issued but 184 councils had not issued any.

In cash-strapped times, finding the money and resources to fund proactive enforcement activities to catch fly-tippers in the act can be challenging. For example, Darlington Borough Council recently consulted on proposals to stop carrying out any environmental crime enforcement.

There has been much speculation that the increase in fly-tipping has been caused, at least in part, by local authorities implementing charges for some waste streams at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs). But the recently released data relates to 2015-16 which precedes the introduction of the majority of charges – Hampshire (October 2016), Staffordshire (November 2016), Dorset (September 2016), Surrey (September 2016) and North Yorkshire (April 2016).

Time will tell whether such charges have had an effect on residents’ behaviour and their use of HWRCs. However, there are many other factors which are likely to have contributed to the ongoing rise in the number of fly-tipping incidents, including difficult business trading times; increased cost of legitimate waste disposal; crackdown by local authorities on illegal trade waste disposal; and blocking cross-boundary use of HWRCs.

In addition to councils introducing charges and putting in measures to prevent trade waste from entering their sites, they are also increasingly blocking cross-boundary HWRC use, meaning that residents who live on a local authority boundary may have to travel significantly further to reach their nearest in-county HWRC, potentially increasing the temptation to dump.

The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply puts waste disposal costs at 4-5% of a business’s annual turnover, but it can be as high as 10%. With companies facing difficult trading times and ongoing financial pressures, and the costs for legitimate waste disposal on the increase (the recent Budget announcement included a landfill tax increase to £86.10 per tonne from 1 April 2017, rising to £88.95 per tonne a year later), the temptation to use cheaper routes to get rid of waste, such as unlicensed waste carriers, local HWRCs or merely fly-tipping may be too great for some.

But with councils increasingly using permit schemes for vans and trailers, along with number plate recognition systems at HWRCs to crack down on illegal trade waste passing through their sites, this may have contributed to some businesses resorting to fly-tipping or using rogue waste disposers who ultimately fly-tip the waste they collect.

What is clear is that enforcement action is a vital to tackling environmental crime. The new fixed penalty notices for fly-tipping give local authorities greater power to tackle the issue at source without having to resort to the costly process of going to court. It is clear that better education of companies and residents on their responsibilities for waste disposal, along with a crackdown on criminal waste collectors, will be vital to reserving the current trend in the numbers of fly-tips. But is that the role of local government in these austere times?

Victoria Hutchin, principal consultant, Ricardo Energy & Environment resource efficiency and waste management team

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