Is litter and fly tipping really that bad?
Litter and fly tipping benefits no-one, including the person doing it, because we all end up paying for it either financially, environmentally, or socially. Devon authorities spend about £7m annually keeping the County clean, and without these services, the cleanliness of our local environments including streets, highways and countryside would deteriorate rapidly.
The Clean Devon Partnership records around 10,000 incidents of fly tipping every year and so working with business, landowners and residents, is working to tackle this anti-social behaviour. Beyond the estimated £1bn spent on clearing litter and fly tipping in the UK annually, these thoughtless activities also damage communities, the environment and seriously impacting on people’s well-being.
Because litter and fly tipping is uncontrolled, it can enter watercourses, block drains – leading to flooding, and contribute to the 80% of ocean plastic originating from land based sources. Litter and fly tipping not only looks bad, it causes injury and death to insects, wildlife and livestock.
Litter and fly tipping is costly, polluting, avoidable and unnecessary so yes, it really is that bad.
For further information about the impacts of waste crime see the Environment Agency National Waste Crime Survey (2023)
What is the difference between litter and fly tipping?
Litter tends to refer to small quantities of discarded on-the-go items such as smoking related or food & drink packaging, but it also includes dog fouling.
Fly tipping is generally any accumulation of waste greater than a bin bag in size and can include unauthorised waste placed next to bins (side waste), or larger items such as old furniture, building waste or hazardous items, even if this is outside your property boundary. During 2021/22, 11,821 incidents of fly tipping were recorded just within Devon, Plymouth and Torbay.
Where waste is not contained or in the right place it can contribute significantly to the problem of litter and fly tipping through weather and scavenging. Litter and small scale fly tipping are usually the responsibility of the Local Authority (public land) or landowner (private land).
Waste Crime is a broader term including a range of illegal activities, including dumping (fly tipping), burning, illegal shipping of waste, mis-describing waste, and operating illegal waste sites. Waste Crime is usually reported to the Environment Agency.
Is clearance of litter and fly tipping covered in Council Tax?
By ‘covered’ we mean ‘paid for out of existing budgets’ but only on land managed by local authorities. Landowners, including farmers and National Parks have a legal duty to keep their land clear of rubbish, so the costs of clearance and disposal fall directly on them. Understandably for private landowners clean-up costs can be devastating and in these cases are not covered by Council Tax.
On average each fly tipping incident on private land costs the landowner £844 according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA)
Local authorities are also responsible for the removal of fly-tipping from public land, e.g. roads, pavements, lay-bys, parks.
Whilst councils routinely empty bins, littering and fly tipping creates significant additional and unnecessary costs which divert money from other core services so the more litter and fly tipping, the greater the cost to taxpayers.
Who drops litter?
Littering is leaving anything, anywhere, without permission from the land owner. This could include littering caused by waste which has not been contained properly, such as our recycling containers, skips or vehicles and for which we are still responsible for.
Whilst deliberate littering accounts for some of the problem, I in 4 people admit to ‘careful littering’, such as leaving take-away packaging on a wall, or hanging a bag of dog waste on a fence, to ‘pick up later’. Well-intended acts, such as leaving donations outside a closed charity shop is also littering and can contribute to wider street litter through scavengers. Littering is therefore not always a deliberate act, or due to certain groups of people, and can simply be an unintended consequence.
The good news is, with a change in mind-set we can all significantly reduce the amount of litter by asking ourselves the question ‘have I been given permission to leave this here?’, if not, take it to the nearest bin or home.
Fly tipping is usually a deliberate act where the owner of that waste is attempting to avoid disposal costs or save time and again this can be reduced significantly by only giving your waste to people who are authorised to take it.
What are my responsibilities?
The basic rules are the same for everyone, households and businesses.
We all have a legal duty (known as Duty of Care) to (1) manage our waste to keep it secure (avoiding litter) and (2) only pass it to authorised people or approved waste collectors.
Whilst waste is in your possession, or on your property, you are responsible for it. This would include material awaiting collection such as rubbish/recycling containers or skips on your property. It also includes waste from others you are responsible for, such as children or animals (i.e. dog fouling).
Where you have appointed a trader to work on your house, such as building or landscaping works, whilst the householder is still ultimately responsible for keeping waste secure on their property, the tradesperson is responsible for the transport and disposal of waste generated, under permit, with the cost of that management included in what they charge.
Tradespeople are not allowed to leave waste with the householder unless agreed beforehand and the waste will remain ‘trade waste’ and so not accepted through Recycling Centres operated by local authorities. Waste from a domestic property used for a business such as self catering accommodation is also classed as trade waste and again cannot be taken to local authority Recycling Centres and therefore must only be passed to approved waste collectors.
Responsibilities for local authorities are contained in this useful Gov.uk guide.
What is an approved waste collector?
Local authorities are approved waste collectors and as such collect your household waste and provide bulky waste collection services. There are also many private sector companies and charities who are also authorised to collect, transport and disposal of waste. Any waste removed from your property including home improvement works, must only be passed to an approved waste collector (see our Advice page). Always ask for their licence number and check this through the Environment Agency register before work starts.
What is the Buy With Confidence scheme?
Buy With Confidence is the business approval scheme operated by Trading Standards. Membership involves Trading Standards vetting and monitoring, to assure the public that they are trustworthy, honest and reliable traders. By joining Buy With Confidence, waste hauliers can show the public that as well as being registered to carry waste, they are legitimate traders that comply with the other legislation relevant to their business and provide excellent customer service. Using a Buy With Confidence member to take your waste away to an official waste processing facility can help to remove the scourge of fly tipping from our communities.
To find a Buy With Confidence business near to you, go to www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk
What do I do if there is no bin?
In law there is no excuse for littering or fly tipping, it really is that straight forward.
If there is no bin, take it to the nearest or home.
Why don’t you make all the Recycling Centres (tips) free to stop fly tipping?
Managing waste costs money, including every tonne delivered to a Recycling Centre for recycling or disposal.
Because these household facilities are funded through council tax, costs of the service need to be carefully managed and so all waste which is legally required to be accepted for ‘free’ is. Certain types of waste, such as rubble from home improvement works, is not classed as household waste under existing legislation, so a charge is applied. Interestingly, most household fly tipping incidents contain waste which would not have incurred a charge, so the reasons for fly tipping are not just based on avoided cost.
If all waste, from all sources, was accepted at Recycling Centres without charge, costs to the taxpayer would increase exponentially and residents would rightly question why they were funding home improvement projects and commercial and industrial waste disposal.
Many local authorities have introduced vehicle or user restrictions to support this ‘trade abuse’ policy to ensure trade waste does not enter sites fraudulently. Any businesses managing waste should have their own waste management arrangements in place and should not be using Recycling Centres, unless a scheme operates to accept that waste.
It is also important to challenge the belief that where there are no convenient disposal options, such as no litter bin or restrictions to use sites, that this justifies littering or fly tipping. The law is clear, there is no excuse for littering or fly tipping. The Clean Devon Partnership is therefore working together to target the individuals who are causing harm to communities and the environment, supporting the majority of residents who recognise and strive to maintain the natural beauty of Devon.
What about litter on bin collection days?
Householders have a role to play to keep their waste secure before collection such as stacking containers, but also taking account of weather conditions. In fact anyone creating or dealing with waste is responsible for it and this includes local councils and contractors. Collection crews are required to clear any litter they cause and will often pick surrounding litter, but they are not responsible for clearing a mess created before they arrive, they simply don’t have the time. Once the crew have gone, residents can help by picking up any remaining litter so it doesn’t spread far and wide.
The Clean Devon Partnership will therefore identify and target all sources of litter because we all play a part in achieving our goal.
Clean Devon is not about pointing fingers or apportioning blame to others which achieves little, but collaborative and positive action backed-up by coordinated enforcement to target those deliberately littering or fly tipping.
What about roadside litter?
With over 250,000 miles of roads in the UK, and 8,000 miles in Devon alone, keeping our roadsides clean amidst an unrelenting stream of discarded litter is a considerable challenge. This is a behavioural problem which creates significant operational and environmental challenges.
Whilst not all roadside littering is deliberate, this is not an excuse. We all have a duty of care to prevent the ‘escape’ of waste such as thrown from vehicles, insecure loads or even our waste collections, meaning roadside littering is entirely avoidable.
In some countries there is very little, if any roadside litter visible.
Despite our growing awareness of the importance of protecting our environment and the significant value roadside verges provide for wildlife and plants, litter is the single greatest threat to these undisturbed habitats. Roadside litter (such as cans and bottles) traps and kills an estimated 3 million small animals every year.
Litter also contributes to flooding due to blocked drains and culverts.
So if it is such a big problem, why don’t councils clear it up?
It is estimated that the UK already spends over £1 billion every year keeping our streets clean. Much of this is avoidable but the problem is even harder to manage with over 500,000 miles of roadsides (both sides of the road network) in the UK to monitor and clean. This is the equivalent of regularly litter picking from Earth to the Moon.
The main obstacles for clearing roadside litter are;
• Roadside litter is cumulative so what we see (particularly when the leaves are off the trees) is historic litter plus the regular addition of new litter, including that deliberately thrown from vehicles.
• Because the network is so large, vehicle littering is difficult to enforce despite technological advances. However if you have dashcam footage of vehicle littering speak to your local authority.
• Roads can be dangerous places to work so the safety of workers next to, or between, often fast or busy roads limits the amount of general litter picking taking place. Working on roads involves complying with highway operations guidance and highway regulation orders where traffic restrictions are required.
• Closing a road to pick litter is only possible where the litter causes an obstacle. This means for routine litter clearance very expensive traffic management can be required and a lot of staff resource.
• Local Authorities are required by law to keep ‘their land’ (which includes roads) clear of litter but only ‘as far as practical’. Dense scrub or a dangerous road or verge seriously impacts on the authorities’ ability to do this. Litterers don’t care where their litter ends up.
• National Highways are responsible for motorways and major A roads and already collect approximately 83 bags of litter – costing over £3,000 – per mile from their network every year. Further opportunities are also taken to collect litter as part of scheduled works.
• Local authorities and National Highways also work together to promote messaging and co-ordinate litter clearance opportunities, but road closures don’t always happen where the litter is, or even during daylight.
• Picking litter before mowing or scrub clearance is not always possible because the litter may be entangled in the scrub, this is a recognised issue and difficult to overcome in some cases. You can’t get to it until it has been shredded!
By far, the easiest and cheapest solution is simply to reduce littering from vehicles, but for litter that is thrown there are many legitimate and costly obstacles to overcome to retrieve it. Very easy to throw, hard to recover.
If you see vehicle littering, report it, and on local, slower and safer roads (<40mph), regular community litter picking can make a huge difference. With any litter picking, if in doubt, report it. It is never worth injury or death picking up crisp packets. Once the historic litter has been picked (deep clean), occasional maintenance picking will keep on top of it and particularly if you promote and build local support for the work you are doing. People are often delighted to see positive litter picking action in their area, to the point that their journey is not impacted by it. [/av_toggle] [av_toggle title='What can I do to help?' tags='' custom_id='' av_uid='av-lkihbag8' sc_version='1.0'] With safety in mind, a ‘2-minute litter pick’ is a great way to get involved and improve the local area. This could just be picking up a few bits of rubbish every day on your way to work, or a more organised litter pick. The Clean Devon Partnership aims to highlight the fantastic community initiatives already taking place and offer consistent support throughout the County. If every person in Devon picked up 1 piece of rubbish every day, there would be 800,000 fewer bits of litter, every day. The power of one, in large numbers, should not be understated. See our Get Involved pages for further information.
Dog poo, it‘s just poo isn’t it?
This is a common misconception and often raised by people who may see horse poo on the lanes or sheep and cow poo in the fields leading some to question the need to bag and bin dog poo at all, because it’s just poo isn’t it? In fact, dog poo, like cat and fox poo contains a potentially toxic mix of pathogens and bacteria, and unlike livestock, dog poo is everywhere!
Dog fouling is such a problem that Local Councils receive more complaints about it than any other environmental issue, but with approximately 650,000 ‘deposits’ or 30 tonnes of dog poo produced every day from Devon’s estimated 130,000 dogs, it is easy to see why.
Driven by an increasing dog population, discarded poo (bagged or unbagged) is now more prevalent than ever with a growing concern that the abundance of dog poo bags abandoned in our cities, towns, countryside, woodlands and beaches is increasingly becoming one of the most common types of litter. Because we know that plastic is harmful to the environment, this ‘littering’ practice is also adding more and more plastic pollution to our threatened environments every day. Due to the practical difficulty of removing a bag of poo from a hedge or stream, it is also rarely picked up unlike other types of litter, so every day the problem gets worse. Dog poo (bagged and unbagged) can and does harm or kill livestock and wildlife due to pathogens or plastic ingestion. Poo bags can also contribute to block drains leading to flooding.
The law is clear that where the public have access, all dog poo should be bagged and binned every time unless otherwise stated (this does not include your own garden), anything else is littering and fines could be issued. These rules also apply to professional dog walkers. This would include leaving a bag on the path, fence or branch to ‘pick up later’ (ask yourself – ‘have I been given permission to leave this here?’ – if not, it is littering), or even hanging poo from a tow bar which subsequently ‘disappears’ on the way home. Any personal decision as to whether to bag and bin dog waste at a particular point, should not be about the chances of ‘getting away with it’ or even avoiding fines, but respecting the wider community (our neighbours and friends), our environment (for now and the future) and wildlife (which is already facing significant environmental challenges). It is also important to consider that not everyone appreciates dogs, some are genuinely scared of them, and fouling does little to help them change their minds. For a useful guide when out and about see Dorset Dogs Doggy Do Code or some useful advice from the Hampshire Countryside Service.
But, if we are trying to avoid plastic, why bag dog poo?
Despite our need to reduce plastic, picking up after your dog (and bin it) remains one of the few activities for which there is no accepted alternative, other than training your dog to poo in your own garden before you set out – but you still need poo bags by law when out and about. When buying poo bags, look for ones with a high recycled content in preference to the almost meaningless degradable/biodegradable options because it is never composted and should not be left outdoors. Find out more about dog poo and bags via this BBC podcast.
‘Stick and flick’, sometimes cited as a convenient solution, fails to recognise the accumulation effect of poo and social impacts of such practice, or the toxicity of dog poo which is full of bacteria and parasites of particular harm for flora, fauna and people.
Because dogs are carnivores, dog poo contains millions of harmful bacteria including Toxocariasis caused by roundworm which can have serious health impact on humans, particularly young children who love to explore, with the parasitic eggs presenting a risk for months, or even years in the soil or sand. Worming treatments can help but with only 75% of dogs regularly wormed and 2.2million UK dogs without regular vaccinations the risk is increased further. For this reason ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is not the principal consideration. Burying poo at the beach, flicking it off the path or tossing over a hedge is adding to the problem, not a solution. Even where poo has been picked up, the parasitic eggs can remain on any traces remaining particularly for loose poo, so always consider where you take your dog for exercise to protect others, in particular avoiding areas where children play. Never use local public open space as your dog toilet, because like discarded poo bags, your behaviour encourages others to do the same which magnifies the problem.
Dog owners should always follow the Countryside Code and Marine and Wildlife Code, and check the rules before they visit a site. Never take dogs into dog restricted areas (such as displaying ‘no dogs’ signs) including play parks or local beaches (unless signs say otherwise), even if it is winter, dark or quiet. ‘Dogs on leads’ signs should also be followed and are not just used to protect livestock, nesting birds or people, but to ensure owners don’t lose sight of their pets who may subsequently foul when off the lead. Even where there are no signs, the needs of wildlife and people always come before dogs so owners need to be constantly assessing the risks, keeping control and ready to put the dog on the lead as the situation changes.
In protected or fragile habitats such as moorland or coast, discarded poo acts as a ‘toxic’ fertiliser for weeds and other invasive species. Not only does this encourage unwelcome plant growth, but crucially worming treatments used for dogs contain insecticides which attract, then kill off local insect populations. There is also a clear link between dog fouling and water quality in our rivers, lakes, canals and the coast.
So dog poo is not ‘just poo’ and should be considered as equally offensive as human poo, it is highly emotive because of its pernicious nature, potential harm to people, animals, livestock and environment, it impacts on people’s wellbeing by impeding free access to enjoy our towns, countryside and beaches without being permanently vigilant for deposits. It is also very frustrating for those faced with cleaning hands, shoes, clothes, pram or wheelchair wheels or those picking up after others, which sometimes includes other dog owners.
If you own or walk dogs, the law requires that you clean up after your dog (bag it and bin it), it really is that straight forward. Clearing up after your dog and binning the waste is just one essential part of being a responsible dog owner. Like other litter, if the bin is full take it with you until you find a bin with space and report the full bin.
The solution is simple – Make the world a better place – keep the freedom, follow the rules. Bag it and bin it every time.
For general tips for responsible dog ownership in Devon see the Devon Loves Dogs Four Paws Code
If you see a dog fouling, report it.
Do I need insurance to litter pick?
If you pick litter when out-and-about and don’t borrow equipment or need waste collected by your Local Authority, then this is no different to going for a walk, just be aware of any risks on the road, or what you pick up (see Get Involved).
If you borrow equipment from your Town or Parish Council or Local Authority, you will be expected to sign a risk assessment which highlights risks and limits for your activity. You would need to check insurance arrangements at this point, but usually the organisation loaning the equipment would be responsible for having this in place and managing the Risk Assessment. A helpful reminder is to think ‘ABC’ – Assume nothing, Believe no-one, Check everything.
If you litter pick on private land, you will need the landowners permission and they would be responsible for liability insurance, and for any waste collected.
Depending on who you involve, they will all need to see that you have your completed Risk Assessment and Insurance cover so keep a confirmation copy.
This process is not onerous, but just to keep you safe and to avoid any problems should a difficulty occur. Once you have done it once, you should know the arrangement for the next time (note: ABC).
What do I do if I see someone littering or fly tipping?
If you witness littering (including from vehicles) or fly tipping, do not put yourself in heightened risk. If you can see the incident taking place, the following information will help enforcement action;
- Vehicle details (registration, colour, make and model)
- Who – description of individual(s) (include height, build, distinguishing features / clothing)
- What – description of items deposited (include type, number of items)
- When – Date and time
- Where – description of incident location
See our Report it page for contact details.
Does anyone get caught littering?
Yes, local authorities and enforcement agencies are increasingly issuing fixed penalties and fines for littering and fly-tipping but it is not always possible to be in the right place at the right time.
Some authorities, like Plymouth City Council routinely promote their enforcement outcomes.
Whilst all forms of littering are against the law and liable for criminal or civil enforcement action, the principal driver for the issue of fines or legal action is to deter others from similar activity and recover costs.
The Clean Devon Partnership recognises that enforcement action is limited in some areas so will work with Local Authority Environmental Protection Teams to develop awareness and educational programmes, sophisticated prevention, detection and deterrent mechanisms to create zero tolerance for littering within communities and deter others from this damaging activity.
Can I be fined or prosecuted for littering or fly-tipping?
Yes. Fly-tipping is a serious crime and local authorities always look to catch and prosecute those committing it. It is punishable by up to two years imprisonment and up to a £50,000 fine upon conviction.
Handing your waste over to an unlicensed waste carrier is also a crime, we are all legally responsible for the waste we are getting rid of. By giving your waste to someone else, who then goes on to dump it as a fly-tip, you could be held responsible and face prosecution and a fine of up to £5000 for fly-tipping if you haven’t taken reasonable measures to check that the company or person has a licence to carry waste.
Environmental Enforcement Officers who see people dumping waste or leaving items they no longer want outside their homes or in other public places for others to pick up can also issue fixed penalty notices of up to £400.
What do I do if I find needles or other risk items?
In the first instance, do not touch the items or place them in a bin due to the risk to yourself and others. Report needles and other risk items to the local authority who will arrange clearance either directly or through the landowner.
Will this problem ever be solved?
Littering and fly tipping is not new, although since the 1950’s and increasing availability of single use packaging (especially plastic) the problem has become more widespread and persistent in our environment. This has implications for our oceans as well as streets and countryside. Keep Britain Tidy estimate that more than 2 million pieces of litter are dropped every day in the UK costing about £1 billion to clear. However, litter is not a universal problem with some countries being significantly cleaner than others. There is a balance therefore between provision of waste management options and citizens personal responsibility not to litter. With over 8,000 miles of highways and 3,000 miles of public footpaths in Devon alone, local authorities simply don’t have the resource to tidy up after those who litter.
Some examples of early Public Information Films for litter are linked below and the messages are the same today!
Your litter will kill you (YouTube)
Litter on beach (YouTube)
Litter Defence Volunteers (YouTube)
Country Code (YouTube)
Finish with a song, Keep Britain Tidy (You Tube)
The Clean Devon Partnership, working with business and residents, aims to significantly reduce the amount of litter and fly tipping within Devon, Plymouth and Torbay to support the ambitions of national litter strategies and Countryside Code.
Work is already underway to make it harder for rogue traders to operate and so with residents help, checking that their waste is only taken by legitimate companies (see our Advice page) this weakness is being addressed. Our challenge is to work with and support residents to take pride in our local area through effective information and enforcement. Over time, we aim for littering and fly tipping to become socially unacceptable.