Scotland Climate action and sustainable development, Communities and society, Covid-19

Fly-tipping during a pandemic

Paul Wallace from Keep Scotland Beautiful writes on fly-tipping – a prominent issue under lockdown with reduced waste disposal services – giving advice to local authorities on how to approach the issue. 

April 2020

While taking my daily exercise with the kids around our neighbourhood this week I was angered by the newly fly-tipped waste. Over the years I have worked for Keep Scotland Beautiful I have become hardened to the reality of how many people view our environment and open spaces. I have learnt that a persistent few make substantial financial gain from taking waste from businesses and householders and then dumping it, out of sight and mind, in our countryside.

But something about this incident of fly-tipping really frustrated me. We were entering week two of lockdown as a result of the coronavirus sweeping across the world. It is a time when we should all have been valuing our green space, our wildlife and our environment. I wanted, no needed, this walk, this precious time outside exercising with my family to revitalise me, to invigorate me so that I could cope with another day of juggling the ‘working from home’/‘parent of young children at home’ life I find myself leading. Now I am just angry, frustrated and worried.

Fast forward a day and we received three media enquiries at Keep Scotland Beautiful about fly-tipping spiking in Scotland as a result of coronavirus. Seems incredible. But, then speaking to colleagues and some of those organisations we work with, it appeared that this was really a linked problem – as council waste services were necessarily being pared back to reprioritise other services, as civic amenity sites closed and bulky uplifts were suspended, a new breed of people were starting to dump their waste along with the usual persistent offenders.

Reports of dangerous fly-tipping blocking communal areas and creating fire hazards in built-up areas started to be shared with our team, along with despairing calls from land-owners who will now bear the brunt of the cost of removing the waste to a licensed site.

People being asked to #StayAtHome were looking for things to do, and spring cleaning the cupboards, garages and attics along with the seasonal pre-Easter DIY all appear to be contributing factors. That along with small businesses still working to pay the bills and finding it impossible to legitimately dispose of waste.

Media articles reported a 300% increase in fly-tipping in some parts of the UK, and on my walk later that week on the same route, more waste had joined the pile.

The simple fact is that fly-tipping is a crime regardless of the circumstances. It is dangerous to the environment and people, a blight on our society. But more than that, it costs us all. More than £1million a week to clear litter and fly-tipping in Scotland.

There is absolutely no doubt that we can, and should, all be doing more to tackle fly-tipping, cracking down on large scale criminal and commercial operators and working to change the behaviours of individuals. We, along with Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Government, Police Scotland, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local authorities and other organisations need to work harder to tackle the issues, to target the behaviours of those who dump their waste illegally and to ensure services and infrastructure are available to help people do the right thing. We should additionally be challenging the behaviours of the individuals involved through increased enforcement and a concerted national campaign on the issue.

But for now we are facing a national health pandemic, and these are exceptional circumstances. All we can do at this time is to appeal to those who can help us report incidents, work together to share messages and advice, and as individuals challenge those we might know who think they have no option right now but to dump waste.

When this has passed, when the necessary and temporary measures being taken by local authorities and private contractors at this time of national health crisis are reinstated, once circumstances allow staff and crews to get back to full capacity, then we must act.

The reality will be that when this has passed our environment will be blighted further, and we will all bear the cost of having to clear the backlog of waste that has been dumped.

That is the time for a serious discussion about a concerted behaviour change campaign, a real crackdown on those that fly-tip waste with no regard for people who need open space or the environment and wildlife in it. That time isn’t now, but we should be ensuring that people have the right information to help report incidents now and to accurately advise friends and family members of the implications of illegally dumping waste.

Our call to action to you right now is as follows:

  • If you notice new fly-tipping report it at Dumb Dumpers
  • Strongly encourage your family/neighbours and friends who have waste to dispose of either from their home or businesses to do their bit to support and protect their local community and environment. Urge them to make full use of the capacity of their waste and recycling bins and storage areas, safely storing waste on-site where they can, until full services resume.
  • Dissuade people from getting rid of large items at this time and encourage them to keep them at home until recycling centres re-open.
  • Share the message that offers of cheap disposal are likely to lead to others fly-tipping your items (and this responsibility lies with you under the Householder Duty of Care) to ensure that anyone you hire to dispose of waste is legitimate and operating within the law. Always ask to see a copy of their registered waste carrier certificate.

Related briefing

What a load of rubbish: Fly-tipping and illegal dumping

One thought on “Fly-tipping during a pandemic

  1. It’s right to encourage businesses to store waste on their premises where possible, but it’s not only an offence to deposit waste without a waste management licence (i.e. to fly-tip), it’s also an offence to keep or store waste without such a licence. Even if you have such a licence, it will often limit the amount of waste that you can store, or the period for which you can store it. Unfortunately SEPA’s COVID regulatory position https://coronavirus.sepa.org.uk/regulatory-position/waste-management-regulatory-guidance/ doesn’t emphasise that disposal off-site is not an option. That may be common sense to many, but if it’s a choice between being caught breaching licence conditions and being caught fly-tipping, some will decide they are more likely to get away with the latter. I think SEPA should adopt a ‘COVID waste management hierarchy’, prioritising the safest and least environmentally damaging illegal activities, which they may decide not to take enforcement action against, over the worst (i.e. fly-tipping), which they definitely will act against.

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