Picture showing example of London fly-tipping of over-flowing bin with several rubbish bags put next to it

Fly-tipping warning letters rise by half across London

The number of people receiving warning letters for fly-tipping has risen significantly across London.

According to data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), despite a drop of nearly 6,000 from 2021-22 to 2022-23, London saw a 52% rise in warning letters for fly-tipping from 2019-20 to 2022-23.  

The number of warning letters issued for fly-tipping in London rose from 8,675 to 13,230.

A higher total of 44,269 fixed penalty notices were also issued, going from 9,117 to 12,531, a 37% rise.

This has led some environmental experts to question whether warning letters or fixed penalty notices are more effective at decreasing fly-tipping in London.

They argue that a debate should be placed in the context of different boroughs’ circumstances, including their environmental aims, locations, and financial positions.

Zalayka Azam, 18, is a student and environmental activist who has been to Extinction Rebellion protests and has been litter-picking with her sister since she was 16.

Azam, who has lived in London her whole life, commented: “I don’t like punishment, I don’t like fines, I’m against the currency. I don’t see a point in that.

“I think because they don’t see us as what we’re doing, they just see it as ‘well, someone’s left that there we need to send them a fixed penalty notice’.  

“Because it’s in the system, and it’s all coded they don’t look at your backstory, they just send you an email.

“It’s so reductive, they can plaster your name there but it’s not you. The fixed penalty notices are just a burden, it becomes a burden.”

Azam further questioned whether the different atmospheres and locations of boroughs have an effect when it comes to fly-tipping enforcement.

She added: “Some boroughs are more populated than others, thus the negligence of the borough is more there with fixed penalty notices.

“I think it’s about locality. Leytonstone is quite good with that because we have quite a good village-type feel, which I would contrast with a borough that’s slightly more inward towards the city centre.

“I would also say it’s the power of community, I love Leytonstone, and I can really see it’s the people that push forward with their message. So it wasn’t really about the borough, it was about the people in the borough and how active they were.”

Alice Roberts works at CPRE London, a charity campaigning for green spaces in the capital.

Roberts has previously worked at the Local Government Association representing local authority waste management services and in DEFRA’s waste and recycling department. 

Roberts believes that considering the varying budgets of boroughs is important to understanding how effectively they can financially punish fly-tipping, and if cost is a reason for borough’s differing ability to both prevent fly-tipping and issue financial punishment.

Roberts commented: “Enforcing against fly-tipping is an essential deterrent. In recent years, councils and the Environment Agency have seen budgets slashed, making catching the criminals who dump their rubbish harder. 

“Fly-tipping is an appalling blight on our green spaces. It destroys and pollutes our natural environment. These figures are extremely worrying as, without strong enforcement, fly-tipping will increase. 

“No doubt it is cheaper to send warning letters rather than gather the evidence needed to issue more stringent punishments like fines. But warning letters are much less of a deterrent.”

Jason Mohr founded marketplace removal site LoveJunk, which also publishes reports on fly-tipping in London.  

Mohr finds a similar focus to Roberts, commenting on the financial circumstances of London boroughs in terms of their ability to combat fly-tipping.

Mohr believes that councils need to spend money to tackle the problem, which will depend on a borough’s financial position.

He said: “I don’t think fines, warnings or prosecutions work. 

“The number of people actually paying them or being prosecuted relative to the number of fly-tipping incidents reported is tiny, so how can they act as a disincentive? 

“The key to preventing fly tipping in the capital is to stop householders and businesses from using rubbish collectors that fly tip. 

“Councils would be better off spending money on a coordinated public awareness campaign on how to avoid using a fly-tipper, than wasting money on issuing warning letters and FPNs that don’t get paid.” 

According to LoveJunk’s 2024 Fly-Tipping Report, 87% of fines for fly-tipping are never paid.  

Despite the debate, it is worth noting that local authorities can report fly-tipping incidents differently, as higher incident numbers are often from local authorities being more proactive about reporting.

Some London boroughs assert that situational contexts of different boroughs, such as various local authority schemes run across London, must be considered.

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation commented: “Unlike most local authority areas, the City Corporation operates a Time Banding scheme to keep the City’s streets clean.

“This means there are certain rules about what time and where businesses and residents can place their waste and recycling for collection.”

City of London was the borough with the second-lowest amount of incidents, with 9,411. The borough issued zero warning letters from 2019-20 to 2022-23, compared to 291 fixed penalty notices (3% of its total incidents). 

In a comment from Brent Council, Councillor Krupa Sheth, Cabinet Member for Environment, Infrastructure, and Climate Action agrees with Azam that differing population sizes per borough play a part.

Sheth said: “We have one of the largest populations in London, with high population density, both of which are factors to fly-tipping.”

According to the Recycle, reduce and reuse page on Brent Council’s website, they plan to make the borough the greenest by 2030 with their ‘Green Infrastructure Vision’.

This aims to improve the green spaces and air quality via the implementation of schemes such as the Brent School Climate Champions Network, and the creation of new green walking and cycling routes.

Schemes like these will help keep rubbish off the streets and raise awareness of the problem, which will proactively improve fly-tipping and the environment.

Despite this, Brent reported 138,334 fly-tipping incidents between 2019-20 and 2022-23, the most fly-tipping incidents in London.

Out of this total, Brent issued 7,413 warning letters (5% of its total incidents), and 562 fixed penalty notices (0.41% of its total incidents). 

On the other end of the spectrum, Islington reported 6,442 incidents, the lowest number in London.

The borough issued 450 warning letters (6.99% of its total incidents) compared to 2,471 fixed penalty notices (38%). 

On Islington Council’s website, they focus more on air quality than fly-tipping in their mission statement: “Islington is working to protect our environment and our health by reducing pollution by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill, reducing energy use and protecting areas of parkland and biodiversity, as well as enforcing regulations that keep our air clean and control our built environment.”

Comparing Islington’s pollution focus to Brent’s more fly-tipping-orientated schemes, just because a borough records higher fixed penalty notices and fewer warning letters like Islington, this does not necessarily indicate that it is doing more to tackle fly-tipping, or that it’s their environmental priority.

In a comment from DEFRA, Recycling Minister Robbie Moore comments that DEFRA offers an array of support depending on a borough’s needs, including additional grants.

Moore added: “We are helping councils to take the fight to criminals, with additional grants to tackle fly-tipping, higher £1,000 on-the-spot fines for offenders and powers to stop, search, and seize vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping.

“We are making solid progress – with enforcement up by 6% and fly-tipping decreasing for the second year in a row – but we know there is more to do.  

“That’s why we are helping councils to take the fight to criminals, with additional grants to tackle fly-tipping, higher £1,000 on-the-spot fines for offenders and powers to stop, search, and seize vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping.” 

Photo credit: John Cameron (Unsplash)

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