Using tech to address commercial fly-tipping in the UK

By Aaron Georgiou, CEO and Founder, Litta

Fly-tipping has been a pressing issue in the UK for decades. The illegal dumping of commercial and residential waste in public areas has severe environmental, social and economic implications. Hazardous waste can contaminate soil, lead to local vermin infestations, destroy the appeal of neighbourhoods and pose significant risks to those living locally.

It is an issue that councils across the country are constantly battling. Yet sadly, while fines and the use of surveillance systems have increased, the number of fly-tipping cases is rising.

According to official government figures, between March 2018 and April 2019, local authorities in England dealt with a massive 1,072,000 fly-tipping incidents. During the same period, it was also estimated that the clearing of 36,000 large fly-tipping sites cost the taxpayer £12.9 million.

COVID-19 has increased fly-tipping in the UK

At a time when the UK has been attempting to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus, it might seem out of place to be discussing the issue of fly-tipping. However, the reality is that the number of fly-tipping cases has drastically increased as a result of the lockdown measures implemented since 23rd March. Here at Litta, we have witnessed first-hand the spike in fly-tipping that has come about in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

There has been up to a 300% rise in fly-tipping in certain areas, based on reports being received by Countryside Alliance. This sudden spike is a result of two contributing factors: the first has to do with the amount of new household waste people want to get rid of, with the lockdown resulting in an increase in online shopping, home DIY work and spring cleaning.

According to the Association of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, residual waste has gone up by 81%. Three in four councils also reported a 76% rise in the amount of dry recycling household waste. With councils and charities reducing or halting their collection services during the lockdown, residential rubbish has been finding its way onto our streets.

The second factor behind the rise in fly-tipping has been the temporary closure of waste collection centres. With tips shut to the public, some consumers and businesses have chosen to fly-tip. Furthermore, other people have engaged with illegal waste removal companies, which are in turn responsible for many fly-tipping cases.

Preparing for an increase in commercial fly-tipping

The easing of lockdown measures has resulted in the reopening of recycling and waste management centres. And with local councils recommencing their household collection services, there is hope that cases of residential fly-tipping will drop significantly.

However, there is a bigger problem at play: a potential increase in commercial fly-tipping over the coming months as businesses once again return to their offices and factories.

To ensure office spaces comply with social distancing measures, renovation and refurbishment works will need to be completed by companies. In many instances, this will require installation of new equipment and the removal of office items to ensure there is enough distance between employees in the workplace. That’s why we should expect an increase in demand for commercial waste removal.

What’s more, there is another concern we at Litta have been seeing more of in recent weeks – fly-tipping on commercial sites. The aforementioned illegal waste removal companies have been using industrial parks and manufacturing sites – which have been deserted for months – as areas for fly-tipping.

At the beginning of June, for example, Litta 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, and there are concerns this could be the beginning of a long-term trend.

In the coming weeks, as businesses return to their commercial premises for the first time since March, it is likely we will see many more reports of fly-tipping sites.

The solution lies in technology

At this pressing moment, councils and the private sector need to come together to ensure they are ready to meet the increasing demand for waste removal. If resources are overstretched and the amount of time it takes to remove waste increases, there is a good chance fly-tipping will remain a serious societal problem.

Technology has a vital role to play. While the public sector is not well known for its adoption and use of technology, the private sector has been heeding the call. For example, at Litta we recently launched a fly-tipping alert system to help councils. Through an online platform, anyone in the UK can report a fly-tipping site, which is pinpointed exactly using their GPS. They can add pictures and further information about the incident, with the information then transmitted to the relevant local council for clearance.

These types of solutions will ensure that councils are in a position to quickly respond to fly-tipping in their local area. They also encourage collaboration across to society, with consumers able to play their part in tackling the issue.

With the effective use of digital solutions, councils can work with tech companies to stay on top of fly-tipping in the months and years to come.