The problem of fly-tipping has been around for centuries. With the progression of an industrial and consumer-led society, we have found that our need for waste disposal services has increased exponentially to a point which is becoming more and more difficult to satisfy.
Whilst there continues to be strong encouragement to reduce, re-use and recycle, the reality is that even with those programmes in place, we still rely to a large extent on disposal of our waste at landfill sites.
Why does fly-tipping happen? Unfortunately, some people do not feel inclined to use the proper means of disposing of their (or others’) waste and who are not prepared to pay for the service. Instead, they opt for a “roadside” service which has no height restrictions, no limit on commercial vans, and most importantly, no charges.
This is despite the fact that the offence carries quite significant penalties. If the case is dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, an offender can be issued with a fine up to £50,000 or 12 months in prison. If the matter is sent to the Crown Court to be dealt with (for example, because of its serious implications for human health and safety), the financial penalty is unlimited and the prison sentence can be up to five years. But having normally taken a fee for disposing of the waste for other people, essentially profiteering from the criminal activity, offenders see this as a risk worth taking. In most cases, the penalties are predominantly in the lower threshold of fines.
What to do if you’re targeted? Whilst the local waste authority (your local council) will clear up fly-tipped material on publicly owned land and can seek to recover the clean-up cost from those found guilty, private landowners are responsible for their own clean up costs and procedures, at least at the beginning. They are left to incur potentially extraordinary levels of costs in clearing up fly-tipped (sometimes hazardous) material.
It is therefore important that you report the fly-tip to the local authority or the Environment Agency before any of it is tampered with so that they can keep a record of offences. Depending on the evidence, they may decide to investigate the matter further and potentially prosecute. If they do so, you may be able to recover your clean up costs, so keep a record of everything that you spend.
When you find the offending material, exercise caution when handling it as it may contain contaminated or dangerous matter. Take photographs of the waste and take samples, if necessary, before you attempt to move any of it. When you do seek to dispose of the waste, make sure that you use a properly licenced Registered Waste Carrier. Exercise additional caution with this process because if the waste is then carried to a further illegal hot spot, you could face legal action yourself. Make sure that you get documentation from the waste carrier which sets outs a description of the waste and the name of the person and company removing it from your land, and if possible, its destination.
If you are considering removing the waste from site yourself, make sure you are a Registered Waste Carrier.
If the waste might be hazardous, you will need to get specialist licenced contractors to do the work.
Why your land? The criminals (for this is what they are) who undertake this activity do not care who’s land they dump the waste on. They are indiscriminate. That said, if you have a gate which is easy to open, or no gate at all, or land that is hidden from view or down a less-used quiet country lane, these areas will be prime targets for fly tipping. The crime needs to be done quickly and with low risk of being seen.
What can you do to prevent it? The obvious answer is to make your land visible and difficult to gain entry to. Whether that means putting up cameras, spotlights, additional security and gating, is a matter for you (and your pocket).
Fly-tipping statistics for England, 2017/18 (most recently published)
- Local authorities dealt with just under 1 million (998,000) fly-tipping incidents
- 66% of fly-tips involved household waste
- Deposits on highways accounted for almost half (47%) of total incidents
- Most common size was a ‘small van load’ (33%) followed by a ‘car boot or less’ (28%)
- 4% of total incidents were of ‘tipper lorry load’ size or larger
- For these large fly-tipping incidents, the cost of clearance was £12.2 million
- 494,000 enforcement actions, an increase of 18,000 actions (4%) from 2016/17
Some local stats
Across the West Kent districts of Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and Swale, there have been 8 successful prosecutions by the local authorities for fly-tipping since January 2019 to the time of writing. In Ashford, there have been only 2, one still awaiting a court result. To some, this might seem surprising given the apparent increase in occurrences nationwide. But it is notoriously difficult to gather sufficient evidence to support a criminal case against individual offenders. Prosecuting authorities often have to rely on material found at the site such as addressed letters or invoices and then follow the chain of information in reverse, back to the business/householder, who may have themselves thought they were disposing of the waste responsibly but who fell victim to unregistered carriers with all the gear but no idea.
For more information on how to protect your land, a helpful website is www.tacklingflytipping.org.uk