Dirty secrets: the battle against fly tipping in England and Wales
16 October 2023
DEFRA statistics for 2021/22 reveal that local authorities in England dealt with 1.09 million fly tipping incidents. In recent months the National Farmers Union reported an increase in instances of green waste being dumped on agricultural land causing problems for local authorities and landowners. Depositing green waste in, or on agricultural land creates a number of risks to the environment, to wildlife, and can be deadly to livestock.
Fly tipping is an offence under Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA). The offence occurs when a person deposits, or knowingly causes or permits, controlled waste to be deposited in or on any land unless they have an environmental permit authorising the deposit (and the deposit is in accordance with the licence). Many people may be under the illusion that what they are depositing is not “rubbish” and therefore they are not fly tipping: this is incorrect. Controlled waste is defined as household, industrial, and commercial waste; this includes green waste. Green waste is made up of materials such as garden clippings, leaves, branches, and any other biodegradable mass.
The EPA requires householders to take reasonable measures to ensure their waste is passed to an authorised person who can dispose of the waste lawfully. Those who do not ensure waste is disposed of lawfully will be committing an offence. Enforcement action, by the local authority, can include investigations, warning letters, statutory notices, fixed penalty notices, duty of care inspections, stop and searches, vehicles being seized, formal cautions, prosecutions, and injunctions. If you are convicted of fly tipping, the courts have powers to impose an unlimited fine, and up to five years imprisonment for more serious offences.
Whilst it might seem that the deposit is harmless, there are several issues associated with green fly tipping. When garden waste is collected there are often other materials caught up within it including plastics, metals, and glass. The presence of such material can cause serious harm to livestock and wildlife if ingested. Other issues arise if animals are spiked by or become caught up in materials which should not be in their habitat, these include lameness and infection. Many garden materials are toxic to animals and can cause huge issues for livestock farmers. If livestock are harmed because of a fly tipping offence, the person responsible for the fly tipping could be found guilty of a number of other additional offences, including causing unnecessary suffering to animals or criminal damage.
Green fly tipping can also cause the inadvertent introduction of non-native species into new environments. For example, there have been instances of Japanese Knotweed being introduced into, and over populating, woodland areas around East Anglia as a result of fly tipping. Other species commonly reintroduced through green waste include bamboo, balsams, and giant hogweed. Bamboo is notoriously fast growing and invasive and causes farmers huge difficulties as they are incredibly costly to remove.
In 2019 it was estimated that cleaning up illegally deposited waste cost the UK taxpayer £58 million. Local Councils across England and Wales are cracking down on fly tipping in general and have invested in new technologies, such as covert cameras, to assist in catching offenders.
If you need to dispose of your green waste, you should visit https://www.gov.uk/garden-waste-disposal to obtain the details of how your council deals with these disposals.
Birketts can advise landowners on what to do when there is an incident of illegal fly tipping affecting their land. We can also provide advice and representation to those who may be facing charges for illegally depositing waste. Additionally, we have extensive experience in advising Councils in relation to their investigation obligations, providing guidance and representation when prosecuting the offences.
If you are needing advice relating to prosecuting, defending, or investigating fly tipping, please get in touch with the Birketts Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2023.