A tsunami of fly spills has swept across the North, with a spike in cases during the pandemic accelerating a trend that has been building for years.
Eddy Edwards, from Moss Side, has been shocked by the amount of litter thrown down his lane since moving into his house in 2019. Speaking to Annie Gouk on the latest episode of The North in Numbers, he said “It was unbelievable the amount of trash there – anything that could be thrown out of the house was piling up, and it would continue to happen.
” It’s getting worse. If no one in the area reported the fly dumps, they would continue to take to the streets. In our area, there are probably about 10 people reporting regularly, I’m talking about every day – refrigerators, oversized trash cans, cars, whatever gets left behind. If people weren’t, it would be even worse. But it’s still incredibly bad.
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Latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reveal nearly 310,000 fly-spill incidents were recorded by councils across the North in 2020/21, the equivalent of 35 per hour . This is a 15% increase from less than 270,000 reports of illegally dumped waste in 2019/20, with the increase related to lockdown.
Listen to the podcast episode in its entirety here:
With little else to occupy ourselves, many people spent their time working on their gardens, decluttering their homes and doing DIY. At the same time, communal services were very strained, affecting tips and bulky waste collections, and charity shops were closed.
Steve Beasant, councilor for East Marsh ward in North East Lincolnshire, said: “It started with the pandemic – people don’t go out so much, so they just dump it at the closest possible point.
“It’s awful some weekends. I go around in my stroller to spot all the tips and have them reported, and I can report up to 40, 50, or even 60 batches of tips in a weekend. The council staff are absolutely brilliant in getting him back quickly, but within days he’s back.
“The alleys are a huge problem at East Marsh – I know of alleys with potentially around 20 tonnes of fly spills, and in my opinion those alleys are becoming a health and safety hazard. They also become a public health hazard. There’s a lady I know very well, she catches about three or four rats every week and it comes from the alley. It’s absolutely awful.”
However, while things got particularly bad during the pandemic, there was already a trend over the past decade for fly-spilling incidents to slowly increase.
It’s something Dave Himelfield noticed in his neighborhood. Speaking on the podcast, he said: ‘I live in a semi-rural area on the Lancashire and West Yorkshire border which has been blighted by fly tipping.
“On the main roads through the Pennines, which are still fairly calm, this is a real problem. For example, on the A58 after Blackstone Edge you will see tyres, old furniture, construction waste and other rubbish dumped every few 100 yards.
“It’s been significantly worse since Cameron and Osbourne’s austerity policies slashed municipal budgets, and it hasn’t improved since. I assume this is because councils have had to cut waste collection and disposal services. Less frequent general trash pickups, limits on tipping visits, and billing to get rid of junk chores haven’t helped — not that that excuses tipping, ever.
As Mr Himelfield alludes to, there can be many barriers to proper waste disposal, which could impact fly tipping – for example, people without access to a car to get to at the landfill.
Joe Allen, who lives in Salford and feels fly tipping has ‘ruined’ some of his local parks and other shared spaces, said: ‘I don’t blame anyone in particular, I think the majority are probably there because it there are barriers to get rid of it normally.
“I live in an apartment downtown and we have 30 huge dumpsters in each of the blocks, it’s very easy when people here want to throw furniture, we have places to do that. I know most of the area around me is not these large apartments so I totally understand why they might not want to pay or arrange with the council to have a large bed picked up when you can just throw it somewhere.
John Read of the national campaign group Clean Up Britain disagrees, calling fly dumpsters ‘lazy and anti-social’. However, regardless of why people give illegal dumping or whose fault it is, this illegal dumping of waste has a huge economic impact.
Last year, Northern councils spent £3.6million just to eliminate large-scale tipping cases – which is just a fraction of the overall cost. And taxpayers foot the bill.
To help tackle the problem, Environment Minister Jo Churchill unveiled a crackdown on waste criminals earlier this year, as part of plans to reform the waste industry. She said: ‘Waste criminals are showing complete disregard for our communities, the environment and the taxpayer.
“We have disrupted these rogue operators by giving extra powers to the Environment Agency, with almost 1,000 illegal waste sites now closed every year, while our new joint waste crime unit succeeds to disrupt criminal gangs, for example by illegally pursuing dump trucks. dumping hundreds of tons of hazardous waste across the countryside.
Plans will also reform the licensing system to tackle abuse, while new mandatory digital waste tracking aims to improve transparency and make it easier for households to check that their waste is being disposed of legally.
Mr Read welcomed the measures but said insufficient emphasis had been placed on enforcement. At this time, it’s highly unusual for flying dumpsters to get caught and punished – in most cases, they get away with it completely.
In the North, councils have taken action of all kinds – from investigating, sending warning letters, issuing fines or prosecuting someone – to around 135,000 resumed in 2020/21. That was down from over 160,000 shares in 2019/20, despite the increase in incidents. This means that in more than half of the cases, tippers in the region got away with it completely – assuming an action relates to a single incident.
Prosecutions have fallen from around 1,100 cases in 2019/20 to just over 350 last year – with around 290 of those found guilty being fined by a court. This means councils were only able to collect around £103,500 in court fines in 2020/21.
The number of fixed fines issued also fell dramatically, from around 18,400 to 9,400, and less than 2,100 were subsequently paid. The amount of money collected through FPNs is not available – but the overall amount received by councils in fines will be a fraction of what it costs to clean up the waste that has been dumped.
Mr Read said: “We need to see high profile examples of people being seriously fined. If a council took someone to magistrates court, they could in theory be fined £50,000, or they could even be sent to jail for 12 months. But in reality, this almost never happens.
“The justice system doesn’t impose tough enough sentences and punishments on people, despite the fact that they are able to do so. It’s just totally inadequate, and one of the things we want to see at Clean Up Britain is a minimum fine for anyone caught tipping, and that’s £5,000. We would also like to see one or two people sent to jail who are repeat dumpsters.
Ultimately, however, it’s up to all of us to do our part to tackle fly tipping. Helen Bingham of environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy said: “I think it’s everyone’s responsibility, I don’t think we can put the blame on just one group of people. This is the responsibility of individuals, communities, local governments and businesses, because none of these groups can solve the problem alone.
“Local authorities can clean up trash and dumps on the fly until the cows come home, they could spend all day cleaning trash and dumps on the fly from our streets, parks, abandoned areas, countryside. If we don’t change our behavior as individuals, they will simply have to continue to do so for time immemorial.
The North by the Numbers returns to all major podcasting platforms for its third series this month, including Apple and Spotify.
The podcast is a commendable production for Reach, and it’s hosted by Annie Gouk and produced by Dan McLaughlin. Contact us via [email protected]