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Furniture takeback schemes needed as fly-tipping costs to councils rise to £57m

The Local Government Association has called for more manufacturers to provide take-back services for furniture and mattresses after the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that local authorities in England dealt with over a million fly-tipping incidents last year, costing cash-strapped councils an estimated £57.7 million.

Furniture takeback schemes needed as fly-tipping costs to councils rise to £57m
The data, collected from 325 out of 326 local authorities in England, shows there were 1.02 million fly-tipping incidents in 2016/17, up from 936,000 incidents the previous year, representing a seven per cent increase. Clearance costs rose from £50 million to nearly £58 million as a result.

Household waste accounted for two-thirds (67 per cent) of incidents and increased by eight per cent in a year, from 628,000 incidents in 2015/16 to 676,000 in 2016/17. More than half of the increase was due to fly-tipped furniture, carpets, and waste from small scale DIY works, which increased by 29,000.

Commercial waste, which accounted for seven percent of incidents, also increased from 62,000 to 66,000 incidents last year. The remaining 26 percent of fly-tipping comes from construction and excavation, green waste, electrical items, vehicle parts, chemical drums, clinical waste, and asbestos.

While incidents of green waste, electrical items, and tyres have fallen slightly compared with last year, the number of incidents involving white goods continued to increase, rising from a low of 13,000 incidents in 2012/13 to 55,000 last year, an increase of 323 per cent in under five years.

“Litter and fly-tipping is environmental vandalism – it’s unpleasant, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s Environment spokesman, in response to the figures. “Not only does fly-tipping create an eyesore for residents, it is also a serious public health risk, creating pollution and attracting rats and other vermin.”

The data set confirms a five-year trend of increasing fly-tipping since 2012/13 when the total number of incidents was just 711,493 across England. Since then fly-tipping has been steadily growing every year, returning to the high levels last seen in 2007/8.

The causes for the increase, Defra’s report notes, are complex. Several authorities have reported that more incidents have been recorded because of the introduction of online reporting systems. In addition, higher levels of fly-tipping in some authorities will not necessarily mean some councils are more relaxed about the issue. Housing density, proximity to commuter routes, and differences in authorities resources, can be important factors for fly-tipping rates.

Tackling a growing problem

Enforcement actions carried out in England decreased by four per cent (20,000 less actions) compared with 2015/16, the second year in which actions by local authorities have decreased despite rising incidents.

Local authorities were given new powers in May 2016 to issue a fine specifically for fly-tipping which has enabled them to reprimand offenders more easily without going through the courts.

Cllr Tett welcomed the new powers to issue fines: “The government has responded to our call for councils to be able to apply Fixed Penalty Notices for small scale fly-tipping – and this is a big step in the right direction.

“When they take offenders to court, councils need a faster and more effective legal system which means fly-tippers are given hard-hitting fines for more serious offences. Manufacturers also need to provide more take-back services so people can hand in old furniture and mattresses when they buy new ones.”

Local authorities issued 56,000 fixed penalty notices in 2016/17, an increase of 56 per cent from 36,000 in 2015/16. The number of prosecutions has incidentally decreased by 25 per cent from 2,135 in 2015/16 to 1,602 in 2016/17.

Historically prosecutions have a high success rate, the majority of outcomes being fines. Although the number of fines decreased by 28 per cent, courts have been imposing harsher fines with the total value of fines rising from by seven per cent. The number of custodial sentences has also increased by 56 per cent from 18 in 2015/16 to 28 in 2016/17.

The full set of Defra statistics on fly-tipping in 2016/17 can be found on the department’s website.

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