AS if our country lanes, woodlands and urban streets aren’t blighted enough, along comes a steady stream of discarded Christmas trees, smashed decorations and oozing sacks of rotting turkey carcasses.
This time of year is prime fly-tipping season. The period just after Christmas, when people often enjoy a hearty walk in the fresh air, brings forth a perfect storm; increased household waste, out-of-kilter refuse collections, reduced hours at local civic amenity sites, sheer laziness and a rise in criminal activity by opportunistic illegal waste disposal companies.
Fly-tipping, or “waste crime” as it is now called, is a growing issue which shows no signs of abating. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there were almost one million instances of waste crime in 2017-18, despite the fact that council fines for the offence went up by a staggering 43 per cent, from 1,571 in the previous year to 2,243.
The threat of a hefty fine or even imprisonment makes no difference. Such is the widespread severity of offences, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, has ordered a comprehensive review which aims to add further weight to the way that government deals with perpetrators.
A major focus of Gove’s comprehensive review is to identify and crack down on rogue waste disposal businesses. These are the reprehensible outfits which take money off companies and private individuals in exchange for removing rubbish. Then rather than disposing of it through the proper channels, they dump it on public land and move on to their next victims.
A Home Office study suggests that criminals may also use waste management activities such as operating illegal waste sites as a cover for crimes including theft, human trafficking, fraud, drugs and firearms supply and money laundering.
This is bad enough. However, the insidious nature of waste crime allows it to take over an area and quite literally, turn it into a dump. Once a landscape is littered, it becomes commonplace to add to the pile. Pretty soon the pile begins to grow and within a short space of time, it’s insurmountable. A former beauty spot becomes a blot on the landscape.
What an example this sets to younger generations, who are now growing up with the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to dump rubbishScourge iof wherever you feel like it. Out of the car window, off the back of a van or in the middle of the street. Anything, it would seem, goes.
It is questionable whether people actually realise that what they are doing is wrong. Such is the state of some parts of the countryside that the ignorant and idle probably think it is now perfectly acceptable to dump a broken old sofa or mattress by the side of the road instead of taking it to the charity shop or arranging for it be collected responsibly. This is a self-perpetuating crime. If one person does it and gets away with it, others will follow.
Over the past year or so, I’ve watched as my local woodland has steadily become increasingly infested with garbage of all kinds. Paint cans disgorging their contents down the road. Old fridges and televisions cast into bushes and rubbish hanging precariously from trees. Bulging bin-bags of unidentifiable waste pecked and pulled apart by carrion birds and foxes and takeaway wrappers thrown heedlessly into hedgerows. Not only is all this a threat to wildlife and the environment, it’s also highly dangerous for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
That’s why I’m making a plea for local authorities to carry on prosecuting with vigour. However, the major problem with “waste crime” is that it’s extremely hard to detect. Those who do it tend to operate in out-of-the-way places and often under cover of darkness.
I would never urge anyone to take the law into their own hands, especially in a potentially dangerous situation. The official guidance says that if you spot someone fly-tipping you should not approach them directly.
What you should do instead is to take down the registration number and a description of driver and debris and report it immediately to your local council.
Also, as a responsible citizen, if you need to dispose of major waste or unwanted household items, you should always make sure that you use a registered waste carrier with the proper permits, not somebody you found on Facebook who offers to take the lot for a tenner. Or better still, find a worthy cause and pass on what you don’t need.
And local councils should make it far easier to dispose of waste at civic amenity sites and so on. I know they must exercise caution, but at some of these places you probably have to bring proof that both your parents were born in the parish and sign in blood to drop off a sack of old wrapping paper. It’s sometimes said that modern life is rubbish, but it doesn’t have to be if we all pull together.