Cancelled bin collections blamed for surge in fly-tipping during Covid lockdown

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Local authorities dealt with 1.13 million cases of rubbish dumped on highways and in beauty spots in 2020-21 – Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Fly-tipping incidents in England surged last year as bin collections were suspended during the pandemic, according to government figures.

Local authorities dealt with 1.13 million cases of rubbish dumped on highways and in beauty spots in 2020-21, up 16 per cent from 980,000 the previous year.

However, the number of fines handed down by courts to offenders fell by more than half, to just 1,313, from 2,672 in 2019-20.

Explaining the data, the Government noted that last year’s figures covered the first national lockdown imposed in March 2020, which impacted many local authority recycling programmes.

Some councils suspended collection of dry recycling, while others also paused garden and bulky waste collection. There were also widespread closures of household waste recycling centres, although many later reopened following updates to social distancing guidance.

Workers in Glasgow remove rubbish left by fly-tippers under the M8 motorway – Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Changes to household purchasing during lockdown, as well as changes to travel and leisure, may also have driven the increase in fly-tipping, the Government said.

Household waste accounted for 65 per cent of the incidents, about the same proportion as 2020-21. Debris was most commonly dumped on pavements and roads, making up 485 of every 1,000 cases, followed by footpaths and bridleways at 198 in every 1,000, the Government said.

London was the dirtiest area, with 43 fly-tipping incidents per 1,000 people, followed by the North East at 31. By contrast, the South West was the cleanest, with 10 cases per 1,000 people.

Clearing up all the large fly-tipping incidents cost local authorities in England £11.6 million, up from £10.9 million the previous year.

Drop in offenders being penalised

Despite the rise in cases, the number of enforcement actions carried out by councils fell by four per cent to 456,000, compared to 474,000 in 2019-20.

The number of fixed penalty notices dropped by 24 per cent to 57,600 in 2020-21 from 75,400 the year before.

Meanwhile, the number of court fines issued dropped by 51 per cent to just 1,313 from 2,672 in 2019-20, with the total value of the fines decreasing by 62 per cent to £440,000 from £1.2 million last year.

The Country Land and Business Association, which represents rural businesses in England and Wales, remarked that the figures probably told only half the story, as they covered only fly-tipping on public land.

It said the “vast majority” of fly-tipping occurs on private land, with one of its members facing a £100,000 bill to clear up just one incident.

Mark Tufnell, the president of the association, said: “Fly-tipping continues to wreck the lives of many of us living and working in the countryside, and significant progress needs to be made to stop it.

“It’s not just the odd bin bag but large household items, from unwanted sofas to broken washing machines, building materials and even asbestos being dumped across our countryside.”

Fly-tipping ‘an eyesore for residents’

David Renard, the environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said that fly-tipping was inexcusable, causing an eyesore for residents, a health risk and costing taxpayers £50 million a year to clean up.

He added: “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.”

Jo Churchill, the resources and waste minister, said: “Fly-tipping is a crime which blights communities and poses a risk to human health and the environment.

“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.”

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