Fly-tipping soared during pandemic but fewer offenders were punished, figures show

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Opportunist criminals dumped waste illegally more than 1 million times across England in a year when many tips were closed and council enforcement teams were hampered by staffing shortages

Illegal rubbish dumping soared during the pandemic, while enforcement action against those responsible fell, new figures show.

With many recycling centres forced to close for long periods, councils reported 1.1 million fly-tipping incidents in the 12 months to March 2021, a rise of a sixth from the year before.

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The Local Government Association said councils had “done what they can during the extremely challenging circumstances of the pandemic to crack down on fly-tippers”, amid staff shortages and court closures.

Rubbish pictured dumped near the village of Scraptoft, as recycling centers were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak on April 14, 2020 in Leicestershire (image:Getty Images)Rubbish pictured dumped near the village of Scraptoft, as recycling centers were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak on April 14, 2020 in Leicestershire (image:Getty Images)
Rubbish pictured dumped near the village of Scraptoft, as recycling centers were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak on April 14, 2020 in Leicestershire (image:Getty Images) | Getty Images

Fly-tipping reached the highest level since 2009/10, although it is hard to make direct comparisons with previous years as the way data is collected has changed.

London was the region with the highest number of illegal dumpings, according to the figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Its boroughs reported more than 380,000 separate incidents, seven times more than the South West.

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Camden was England’s worst-hit council area, with 36,696 incidents.

However, enforcement action fell, with 455,557 separate actions taken, a 4% fall from the previous year.

This included the halving of prosecutions, to just 1,412.

Officers dished out 24% fewer fixed penalty notices, while duty of care inspections fell by almost half (45%).

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‘Unscrupulous operators’

Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said that “unscrupulous operators undercut those acting within the law”.

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She said: “During the pandemic, local authorities faced an unprecedented challenge to keep rubbish collections running and civic amenity sites open, and the Government worked closely with them to maintain these critical public services.

“We have already given local authorities a range of powers to tackle fly-tipping and we are going further; strengthening powers to detect and prosecute waste criminals through the new Environment Act, consulting on introducing electronic waste tracking and reforming the licencing system.

“Increased use of technology is also helping, with more councils now encouraging the public to use apps and online platforms to quickly and easily report this crime so authorities can take action.”

Anyone caught fly-tipping or illegally dumping waste can be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Councils can also slap offenders with fixed penalty notices (FPNs) of up to £400.

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Fly-tipped rubbish and waste is seen beside a road in Colnbrook, near Heathrow, west of London on May 11, 2020(image: AFP via Getty Images)Fly-tipped rubbish and waste is seen beside a road in Colnbrook, near Heathrow, west of London on May 11, 2020(image: AFP via Getty Images)
Fly-tipped rubbish and waste is seen beside a road in Colnbrook, near Heathrow, west of London on May 11, 2020(image: AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Where was the most rubbish dumped?

Roadsides saw the most rubbish dumped, with 485,406 separate incidents, a 16% rise from the year before.

Railways saw the highest yearly rise, with incidents doubling to 1,445.

A small van-load was the most common quantity of waste fly-tipped, representing a third of all reported incidents.

Councillor David Renard, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said fly-tipping was “inexcusable” and cost taxpayers £50 million a year to clear up.

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He said: “Councils have done what they can during the extremely challenging circumstances of the pandemic to crack down on fly-tippers, which has led to staff shortages and court closures during lockdowns.

“We continue to urge the Government to review sentencing guidelines for fly-tipping, so that offenders are given bigger fines for more serious offences to act as a deterrent.

“Manufacturers should also contribute to the costs to councils of clear up, by providing more take-back services so people can hand in old furniture and mattresses when they buy new ones.”

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