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Using tech to address the fly-tipping crisis

Author : Aaron Georgiou, CEO and Founder, Litta

24 June 2020

Fly-tipping, or the illegal dumping of commercial and household waste, is one of the biggest environmental challenges currently facing the UK.

In recent years, the scale and frequency of fly tipping incidents being reported has spiked dramatically.

In the 12 months leading to April 2019, local authorities in England alone had to clear over one million fly-tipping sites.

Costing taxpayers a total of £12.2 million, this also represented an 8% increase in the number of cases reported in the preceding year. One cannot help but feel as though local councils are fighting an uphill battle.

Even with the introduction of tougher penalties for individuals and illegal waste clearance companies caught fly tipping, its impact has been minimal.

A change of approach is clearly needed. This is all the more pressing given the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has indirectly contributed to a surge in new incidents being reported in recent months.

With councils and charities temporarily putting on hold their waste and rubbish removal services, and local recycling centres closing their doors, more household and commercial waste is finding its way onto public and private land.

According to Countryside Alliance, there has been as much as a 300% increase in the number of fly-tipping cases in certain areas of the UK as a result of the lockdown.

Fly tipping cases are rising

This is something we have experienced first-hand here at Litta.

At the beginning of June, we cleared a 75-tonne fly tip on a commercial estate in Uxbridge, London. This was the heaviest volume of waste we have cleared in our three-year history as a tech startup, and more concerningly, fly tips of this size are becoming much more common.

There are fears we could see an increase in the number of commercial fly-tipping sites being reported across the UK.

This is because of the sheer volume of waste that will need to be disposed of over the coming months.

From getting rid of rubbish that has accrued during lockdown to undertaking extensive renovation works to ensure workplaces adhere to social distancing requirements, there will be increased pressure placed on private and public waste removal services.

In turn, we could see a rise in businesses using illegal fly-tipping services to dispose of waste quickly.

What are the responsibilities of businesses?

Businesses must take responsibility when it comes to the disposal of their waste.

In accordance with the Environment Protection Act, their responsibilities include the prevention of their waste from causing damage to the environment, and an obligation to ensure any waste collection providers they use are fully licensed. The latter point is particularly important.

Organised crime in the waste sector is a huge issue. A government inquiry in 2018 found that there were two models of illegal operation in this sector.

The first involves groups without licenses or registrations using online forums to arrange for the dumping of waste on commercial land or industrial plots.

The second model is subversive – illegal organisations pretend they are registered companies, presenting fraudulent certificates and licenses to give the impression they are a legitimate organisation.

In both circumstances, should a business be caught engaging with criminal organisations, either deliberately or unintentionally, they could be liable for fines and heavy penalties.

Using tech to track and monitor waste disposal

When engaging with a waste removal company, businesses must have evidence (be it an invoice, waste transfer note or receipt), that the items were legally disposed of.

Importantly, readily available apps can be used to track the lawful removal and disposal of waste by providing a driver tracking number and a full audit trail.

This is just one example of how tech startups are using tech to come up with creative ways of promoting effective waste management.

As such, any solution to the fly-tipping problem in the UK will require a willingness from local authorities, businesses and individual consumers to use tech to report on cases of fly-tipping and ensure waste is appropriately disposed of.

This is all the more pressing over the coming months as the UK slowly transitions out of lockdown, where the volume of waste and rubbish needed to be removed will increase.

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