Fly-tipping – the ‘new narcotics’

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

The exponential rise in fly-tipping incidents has been blamed on a new type of organised crime network. The network has even been called the ‘new narcotics’.

Experts researching the issue have concluded that criminal gangs are setting up fake businesses to collect waste, before dumping it in hired buildings. The cost to local authorities is said to be almost £60m in clean-up costs since 2012. Recent research has found that, across the UK:

·    large-scale fly-tipping – defined as tipper lorry load
   or more in size – has more than doubled in six years,
·    last year, councils faced a £12.8m bill to clear more
   than 36,200 large tips,
·    that accounted for more than a fifth of the overall
   cost of clearing fly-tips.

The gangs in question will pose as legitimate waste disposal businesses, advertising their services on the internet with charges. They’ll then collect a person’s waste before dumping it in one of their hired buildings, completely unbeknownst to the client or landowner. Marc Lidderth, an area manager for the Environment Agency, said fly-tipping crime was ‘the new narcotics’.

Speaking to the Moorlander, a spokesman for Devon County Council said: “Fly-tipping is indeed an issue in some parts of Devon. It is not only unsightly, it is a growing financial burden on society, and can have serious public health consequences. It impacts on our agriculture, wildlife and tourist industry.In order to help tackle this blight on Devon’s landscape, economy and communities, a new multi-agency taskforce ‘Clean Devon’ is being launched in March, which will include the police, the Environment Agency, councils, the National Parks, businesses, the NFU, the CLA and the Devon Wildlife Trust. The partners will share expertise and intelligence and work with businesses, communities and parish councils to put a stop to this environmental vandalism.”
Countryside Alliance head of policy Sarah Lee said that tougher sentences were needed to address the crisis: “You are now getting fake waste companies hiring out buildings, dumping waste in them, doing a runner and leaving it for landowners to dispose of the waste at huge cost to them.”

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said new figures highlighted a ‘nightmare’ situation that continued to ‘spiral out of control’. It said that criminals, in addition to hiring-out buildings, were also using lock-cutting tools to break in to private land and tip vast quantities of waste that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to clear. In some instances, they go to great lengths to disguise their activities, compacting the waste into plastic wrapping, then taking it to open land and building it into haystack shapes.

Local authorities need to be properly resourced to tackle large-scale crime, according to Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton. “It’s time for the new government to get serious on mass fly-tipping, make it harder for criminals to trade, and give local authorities the resources they need,” she added. But some, including the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) director general Sarah Hendry, say the introduction of fees at many recycling centres had brought about the rise of organised criminal fly-tipping. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said waste crime was becoming more organised, involving ‘networks of career criminals’, and tackling this type of illegal activity was complex.

In 2019, local authorities were given the power to issue penalties of up to £400 to householders who pass waste to an unlicensed carrier and whose waste is then found fly-tipped. Earlier this year, Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said organised crime gangs linked to slavery, drugs and firearms were exploiting the waste industry in massive fraud and fly-tipping schemes. The agency is responsible for clearing larger scale fly-tips on public land, though it bills the cost to the local authority. An agency spokesman said: “Waste crime is an unacceptable blight on our environment, estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600 million a year and put communities at risk. We are determined to bring waste criminals to justice, which is why anyone found guilty could face jail time or a hefty fine. In the last year, we closed down over 900 illegal waste sites, brought forward 113 prosecutions and launched a Joint Unit on Waste Crime to bring down the most serious and organised criminal groups.”

The joint unit brings together police forces, the
National Crime Agency, the Environment Agency, HMRC and Natural Resources Wales. The agency encourages anyone who has witnessed waste crime to report it to the incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

A spokesperson for Teinbridge District Council told the Moorlander: “We recognise the issues highlighted in the report, especially with regard to the activities of unlicensed contractors. In policing this problem, we rely very much on help from the public in reporting fly-tipping if they see it happening.  You can report any illegal fly tipping via our website

“If no one sees them tipping, or if a witness will not give us a statement, then we can’t go after the culprits. Worse still, an unknown number of incidents happen without anyone witnessing them. If there is evidence in the dumped materials that gives a clue to their origins, we can contact the original owner and ask who they engaged to get rid of it. We would remind anyone who engages a waste disposal contractor to check that the outfit has a waste carrier’s licence”.

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