John Love has spent 22 years cleaning up other people’s mess - but it still astounds him just how much gets dumped on the streets of Barnsley each week.
As he gets out of his van to clear up yet another stack of sofas, children’s toys and household rubbish that have been dumped in a ginnel off Station Road, he’s approached by Robert Youel, who lives across the road from the spot, which has become a regular destination for fly-tipping.
“It’s quite funny sometimes, you’ll see a settee walking down the street, balanced on someone’s head - but it’s a nuisance. The street looks awful and it attracts vermin. What are you going to do about it?” he asks.
But the fact is, Mr Love, and Barnsley Council’s Environmental services team, are doing a lot.
It spends more than £2m a year on street cleansing, and last year prosecuted 141 people. It’s also encouraging community groups to clean up their areas - something The Yorkshire Post is encouraging as part of our Clean Up Yorkshire campaign.
Back at the Council’s Smithies depot, I meet Paul Castle, service director for Environment and Place.
“I cannot understand people that do this,” he says. “We live in one of the country’s cleanest and unspoilt areas - yet a minority of people are seeking to spoil it.
“For some, it’s laziness and a lack of thought for others. For others, they don’t know what to do with the items. But charities like the British Heart Foundation and Age UK will offer a second life for many items and we offer a bulky job service which is £5 to collect an item like a fridge or a bed.”
With the exception of the Penistone area, across Barnsley each ward is seeing an increase in fly-tipping - something Mr Castle partly puts down to an upturn in the economy. As people are have more money in their pockets to replace furniture or white goods, or embark on DIY projects, more waste is created.
In total, Barnsley has seen a 72 per cent increase in white goods being dumped compared to a year ago. The highest number of fly-tipping incidents Mr Love and his colleagues were called out to in any one month in 2013 was 210, but in March this year there were 399 - an increase of 90 per cent.
“Any member of the public has a duty of care to dispose of their waste legally, and even where a third party has disposed of it on their behalf they can be prosecuted,” Mr Castle said. “So when you have building work undertaken, it’s worth asking your builders what they are going to do with the waste - where is it going? Is it going to be recycled?”
Fly-tipping can result in fines of up to £50,000 or five years imprisonment. But it’s difficult for council’s to get the evidence they need to support a prosecution. Earlier this week, The Yorkshire Post reported how councils in the region are spending £4m clearing up fly-tipping alone, yet reaped back from £36,000 in fines.
Defra has introduced tougher sentencing guidelines, but Keep Britain Tidy are lobbying the Government to give councils the power to impose on the spot fines to fly-tippers of £1,000, making enforcement easier and hopefully increasing the deterrent.
Last year, Barnsley Council prosecuted a man caught dumping a fridge and exhaust pipe. He was found guilty in court and ordered to pay £800. With the changes Keep Britain Tidy are fighting for, it’s possible fines like this could be handed out directly without the need for costly prosecutions.
Finding those responsible for dumping rubbish is something that is at the forefront of Mr Love’s mind when he’s out attending to reports of fly-tipping.
When we stop to collect a pile of rubbish from outside someone’s house, just a short drive from the ginnel in Station Road, he immediately starts rifling through to find anything with an address on it. A letter is found, with the address section removed.
“People are wise to it,” Mr Love said. “They watch these programmes on TV and know what we’ll be looking for.
“It’s frustrating when you know people are being so blatant about it. They know if they report it, it will be collected, but strangely, they’ve never seen it get dumped.”
While stopping to collect that rubbish, we notice an armchair dumped in the children’s playground across the street. Although the van is almost full, Mr Love and his colleague Scott Sweeney juggle things around to make sure it fits on.
“Most of the stuff we collect is household rubbish, or furniture,” Mr Love said. “But one of the most unusual jobs was when we were called out to regeneration project in Kendray. A trailer had been dumped. Not so unusual, until we looked inside and found it was full of 60 pigs’ heads.”
Another job was so big, the team had to use a tractor to remove up to 30 tonnes of rubbish that had been illegally dumped.
Barnsley Council is currently investigating more than 40 individual cases of fly-tipping. But environmental enforcement goes further than cracking down on the larger items.
Last year, it issued more than 3,500 fixed penalty notices for littering.
“We’ve had positive feedback from people and streets and noticeable cleaner,” Mr Castle said. “We are also planning to take this further to ‘name and shame’ people within their communities who have been prosecuted for fly-tipping.
“However, the best way to keep an area clean is to not drop it in the first place. We all need to work together to report it, tackle people about it and stop it from happening.”
The council’s Love Where You Live campaign sees it work with community groups to allocate funding for specific projects - including litter picks. One such group making an impact on its community is Mapplewell and Staincross Greenspace and Recreation Group.
It was established more than a decade ago, and as well as working to provide sports facilities in the area, regularly holds litter picks.
In March, they picked 13 bags of rubbish which had been blown into grass verges and park areas around Staincross Common and Windhill, and a further six bags of green waste around the war memorial at Mapplewell.
For secretary Anita Hill, the group is providing an essential service.
“We may not be big in numbers, but we can make a difference,” she said. “In this day and age, it’s really difficult to say it’s the council’s responsibility.
“Some of us are involved in schools, so there’s an educational element. If people would take their litter home, we wouldn’t have to pick it up.”
Recruiting volunteers can be problematic, as people expect it to be a large commitment, she said.
“But it’s not. If I have half an hour, I’ll go and clean up the gardens near me. We try to be as flexible as we can to get more people involved,” she added.
Last weekend, Dodworth Village Community Group cleared 17 black sacks of litter, several wheel trims, and a bag of discarded carpet from along Whinby Road in Dodworth as part of the Clean Up Yorkshire.
The group formed in April this year and firmly believe that “together, we can achieve more”, the group’s vice chair, Lisa Kenny said.
“The aim of our group is to make Dodworth a cleaner, greener and safer place to live, tackling things like litter, dog fouling, graffiti and also doing planting schemes to add colour to our village,” she said.
“We have seen so many cuts to public services, there just aren’t the resources or the money for people to sweep the streets like they might have in the past. But the litter is there. It’s either sit back and moan about it, or stand up and do something about it.”
Back at the Smithies depot, Mr Castle does not underestimate the value of groups like Mapplewell and Staincross and Dodworth.
He said: “It is something that has always been there. People are increasingly proud of their areas, and it’s crucial groups like this exist.
“We don’t live in a world where we can nanny people and clean up after them. 98 per cent of people are socially responsible - it’s about how we can shame those people who are not.”
Join us and Pick Up A Piece
PICK up just one a piece of litter - and help make the The Yorkshire Post’s litter campaign a huge success.
Clean Up Yorkshire has been calling on communities to organise litter picks throughout the month of June - but we want to finish by making as big as difference as possible.
On Tuesday June 30 we are calling for everyone to pick up just one piece of litter to help rid our streets of any rubbish.
We have teamed with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who estimate that if everyone in the region who is able to picks up a bit of rubbish, then 2.5m pieces would be collected from our streets in just one day alone. Let us know how you get on by tweeting with the hashtag #CleanUpYorks