Leonie Cooper: London is at fly-tipping tipping point

by Leonie Cooper

This is the very welcome debut piece for On London by Leonie Cooper AM, who represents Merton and Wandsworth on the London Assembly and chairs its environment committee.

Ugly, costly and unnecessary: fly-tipping in London is spiralling out of control. Figures from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) show that there were a shocking 366,000 cases reported to local authorities last year alone, equating to over 1,000 incidents each day. It is clear that we are at the tipping point and need to comprehensively review our current strategy of how we deal with the illegal disposal of waste.

In addition to its hugely detrimental impact on our environment and public realm, fly-tipping also presents a substantial cost burden to local authorities whose resources and finances are already stretched and under pressure from deep government cuts. The most recent DEFRA stats reveal that during 2016/2017, fly-tipping cost London boroughs £18.4 million in total. Unarguably, this is a gratuitous waste of taxpayers’ money that would be better spent on funding struggling local social care, mental health services and other vital provision. 

Last week, I published a report, Unwanted goods, unwanted mess, which offers a number of recommendations to the Mayor on how we can rid our capital of this scourge. The report is clear that a robust London-wide strategy is urgently needed to confront the issue of fly-tipping.

There is a discernible disparity in fly-tipping incident numbers and enforcement levels amongst London boroughs. Each local authority measures and reports on fly-tipping in different ways, but it is evident that a fragmentary approach is not working. A more comprehensive and joined-up strategy that encouraged boroughs to share information would lead to a more accurate data collection system and more robust enforcement.

Another factor behind the rising rates of fly-tipping is that, as research by Keep Britain Tidy shows, many Londoners simply do not know about the repercussions of illegally dumping rubbish and that it can carry up to a five-year prison sentence. Fly-tipping is also symptomatic of a rigidly linear economy, where the potential of used objects is routinely wasted. Projects such as ‘Repurpose’ by the charity Groundwork London, have trailblazed resource efficiency schemes that champion the so-called “circular economy” where bulky items are repurposed in the community, rather than unceremoniously dumped on street corners.

Unfortunately, the concept of the circular economy is unfamiliar to most people, leading many to be unaware of the legal collection schemes that exist as an alternative to fly-tipping. My report advises that the Mayor should ensure that the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) increases its publicity surrounding schemes that can divert fly-tipping into the circular economy. In the most recent Mayor’s Question Time, it was welcome to see Sadiq make a commitment to discuss this proposal with the LWARB.

Londoners must grasp the legal and environmental ramifications of fly-tipping and begin to use more widely existing schemes that offer a sustainable and legitimate means of disposing of waste. Businesses and retailers could also step in to help to carry the burden placed upon local authorities by offering to set up collection schemes for bulky used furniture and appliances. Everyone has a stake and a role to play in tackling the significant increase in fly-tipping in our communities.

Follow Leonie Cooper on Twitter.

 

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