Fly-tipping can cost private and public landowners considerable sums of money to clean up, but it’s often difficult to catch the culprits as fly-tipping is a clandestine pastime. However, if you are lucky enough to witness the rubbish being dumped what should you do?

What should I do?

Don’t touch the waste, it may be toxic or contain dangerous items such as used syringes. Do however take a note of the time and day on which it is found and the details of any vehicles leaving the dumping site. Don’t tackle the fly-tippers as you could put yourself in danger.

If it’s not your land, tell the landowner immediately, if the waste is potentially polluting he or she may need to take immediate action. If it is your land and a small amount of waste then in reality it probably means a trip to the tip. If it’s over 20 cubic meters of waste (about a single tipper load) then the Local Authority will usually investigate and may prosecute if evidence is found linking the waste to a person.

What are the offences?

There are two main fly-tipping offences under the Environmental Protection legislation relating to “controlled waste” which for the purposes of the act is any household, commercial or industrial waste:

  1. depositing, knowingly causing or knowingly permitting controlled waste to be deposited without an environmental permit/in accordance with an environmental permit; and
  2. treating, keeping or disposing of controlled waste in or on land in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to health. This essentially means acting without and therefore not in accordance with an environmental permit.

Household waste does not come within the ambit of these offences where it is kept, treated or disposed of within the curtilage of a domestic residence by the householder. However, by storing, treating or disposing of waste a householder may find himself in breach of other legislation.

In relation to the first offence the owner of or the person in control of the vehicle from which waste is fly-tipped is treated as knowingly causing the unlawful deposit of controlled waste.

The penalties are substantial being up to twelve month’s imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding £50,000 in a Magistrate’s Court and up to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine if prosecuted in the Crown Court. On top of this the Court may order the fly-tipper pay for the costs of the removal of the illegally deposited waste and the costs of the enforcement and investigation of the case. The vehicle used to commit the offence may also be seized and the driver banned.

It must be remembered that fly-tipping can be a lucrative business with fly-tippers often charging innocent parties considerable sums to remove and dispose of waste. One set of fly-tippers prosecuted in 2008 had pocketed £550,000 from illegally dumping over 14,000 tonnes of waste by the time the law caught up with them. With this in mind the proceeds of crime legislation can be used to confiscate and freeze fly-tippers’ assets.

There are also duties under the Environmental Protection Act relating to waste holders. This is essentially anyone who produces, disposes or carries controlled waste. There are further offences relating to not taking reasonable measures to:

  1. prevent someone from committing the two offences mentioned above;
  2. prevent the escape of waste from your or another person’s control;
  3. ensure waste is transferred to an unauthorised person/transport with a written description of the waste.

A breach of the duty could result in prosecution. If prosecuted in the magistrates Court a fine of up to £5,000 may be imposed on a successful conviction and if dealt with in the Crown Court the fine can be unlimited.

There is a specific duty for householders removing them from the above regime. They have to take reasonable steps to check that anyone they ask to remove and dispose of their waste is properly authorised. If the duty is breached a householder could face a fine of up to £5,000. I wonder how many of us have checked that the skip provider we use is a registered waste carrier and have asked for their waste carrier number.

Who can prosecute?

It is usually the Local Authority or the Environment Agency that bring prosecutions. It may be possible to make a private prosecution or a civil claim for damages.

What if I’m an affected landowner?

Unfortunately it is the responsibility of the landowner to remove the fly-tipped rubbish and dispose of it. However, you should consider taking photos or a video recording of the waste as evidence before it’s removed. Also consider contacting your Local Authority even if they are unable to come and visit they may well want information to help build up a picture of the fly-tipping problem in your area. This may mean that the next time it occurs they will visit with a view to taking enforcement action.

Where can I find out more?

The Environment Agency web site (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/waste/flytipping/default.aspx) for further guidance. They also have a 24-hour hotline number (0800 807 060) to report fly-tipping.

Local authorities – for example: Suffolk has a dedicated fly-tipping response team launched in March 2011. Fly-tipping incidents can be reported to the appropriate Suffolk Local Authority via the Suffolk 1 web site at: http://www.onesuffolk.co.uk/reportaproblem.htm

Norfolk County Council has an excellent fly-tipping page on its web site detailing what and what not to do and also providing the contact number for all of Norfolk’s Local Authorities. Go to: http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/Environment/Waste_and_recycling/Waste_disposal/Flytipping/index.htm