Organised criminal gangs are being blamed for the continued rise of large fly-tipping incidents across the UK.
Experts said fake companies hired out buildings to dump clients’ waste, costing local authorities almost £60m in clean-up costs since 2012.
Parts of London and Manchester have been hardest hit by a growing “crisis” in illegal waste removal services.
The government says the rise in incidents could be down to better recording.
Countryside Alliance head of policy Sarah Lee said tougher sentences were needed to address the crisis.
She said: “You are now getting fake waste companies hiring out buildings, dumping waste in them, doing a runner and leaving it for landowners to dispose of the waste at huge cost to them.”
Gangs will pose as legitimate waste disposal businesses, advertising their services on the internet for a cost, she added.
The BBC Shared Data Unit found:
- Large-scale fly-tipping – defined as tipper lorry load or more in size – has more than doubled in six years
- Last year, councils faced a £12.8m bill to clear more than 36,200 large tips. That accounted for more than a fifth of the overall cost of clearing fly-tips
- Marc Lidderth, an area manager for the Environment Agency, said fly-tipping crime was “the new narcotics”.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said new figures highlighted a “nightmare” situation that continued to “spiral out of control”.
It said criminals were using lock-cutting tools to break into private land and tip vast quantities of waste that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to clear.
Bogus waste companies also try to rent buildings or land and dump lorry loads of rubbish.
Local authorities need to be properly resourced to tackle large-scale crime, according to Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton.
“It’s time for the new government to get serious on mass fly-tipping, make it harder for criminals to trade, and give local authorities the resources they need,” she added.
The rising cost of large fly-tipping
But some, including the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) director general Sarah Hendry, say the introduction of fees at many recycling centres had brought about the rise of organised criminal fly-tipping.
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said waste crime was becoming more organised, involving “networks of career criminals”, and tackling this type of illegal activity was complex.
In 2019, local authorities were given the power to issue penalties of up to £400 to householders who pass waste to an unlicensed carrier and whose waste is then found fly-tipped.
What we found
More than half of all local authorities in England posted an increase in the number of large fly-tipping incidents recorded between 2011-12 and 2018-19.
Manchester City Council recorded the most large incidents in five out of the eight years where data was available, averaging 1,672 clean-ups a year.
In response, the local authority said it had a dedicated environmental crimes team and had recently invested an extra £500,000 into fly-tipping prevention and enforcement.
It also disputed the figures, saying they relate to reports rather than recorded offences. Many incidents could have also been double counted, it said.
A spokesman for the authority said: “Given that Manchester offers a free annual bulky waste collection service, there are no excuses for using a ‘man with a van’.”
Croydon, in south London, had the highest average annual number of large incidents per capita, according to official data published by the government.
The area also saw the biggest increase in large fly-tip across the eight-year period, recording five such incidents in 2011-12, but 3,948 in 2018-19.
Croydon Council said the majority of those incidents were reported by residents on its waste app. It said its waste contractor collected 50 major fly-tips last year.
A spokesman said it was proactive in its work to reduce fly-tipping and was tough on those who commit environmental crime.
It said new powers to seize vehicles had been an excellent tool and the council had confiscated 42 over the last four years.
In contrast, Wales has seen large fly-tipping decrease since 2012 – a trend which officials believe is down to the success of a national campaign run by Fly-tipping Action Wales.
‘There was a huge plume of dust’
One Croydon resident told the BBC that large-scale tipping was a major issue there.
Elizabeth Ash, of Croydon Communities Consortium, said: “You get into the car, start driving and, after a while, you know you’ve left Croydon just by looking out of the window.
“You think, ‘Oh – we’re in Lambeth now. There’s no rubbish on the streets anymore’.”
Mrs Ash said she had had rubbish tipped outside her house during the night.
“It was rubble and electrical appliances – another authority’s bins full of builders’ waste – tipped from the back of a lorry, presumably driving at speed.
“I awoke to the noise, looked out of the window and there was a huge plume of dust filling the air.”
Initiatives being used by some local authorities in a bid to tackle the problem include landscaping to block access to hotspots and ‘wall of shame’ web pages, which share images of local fly-tippers with the public.
In 2018-19, for the first time, two local authorities each issued a fine of more than £50,000 for fly-tipping.
A business and its director were caught by Harrow Council dumping seven-and-a-half tonnes of waste on Hatch End playing fields.
Triangle Care and Maintenance was ordered to pay more than £51,000 for the criminal venture.
Persistent fly-tipping on the fields – where on each occasion a mound of household and refurbishment waste was dumped – led to the council installing hidden cameras and tracing the vehicle by its registration number.
Council enforcement officers planted several items – one of them a marked can – among the rubbish in the back of the van after later spotting it parked on the street.
The cameras then captured the offenders in action, clearly identifying their faces and the van as the waste was dumped late at night.
The marked can was found to be among the dumped waste.
Earlier this year, Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said organised crime gangs linked to slavery, drugs and firearms were exploiting the waste industry in massive fraud and fly-tipping schemes.
The agency is responsible for clearing larger scale fly-tips on public land, though it bills the cost to the local authority.
More about this story
The Shared Data Unit makes data journalism available to news organisations across the media industry, as part of a partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association. This piece of content was produced by a local newspaper journalist working alongside BBC staff.