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DEFRA and Environment Agency not gathering enough data to tackle fly-tipping, report suggests

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency (EA) are not collecting enough data to properly tackle fly-tipping and other waste crime, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

The NAO report found that the number of fly-tipping incidents reported by local authorities had risen most years since 2012-13 and reached 1.13 million in 2020-21 – at a cost of £11.6 million to clear large-scale incidents.

However, the number of active illegal waste sites in England known to the EA reduced from 685 in 2018-19 to 470 in 2020-21. The NAO report suggested that identified cases were down as a result of travel restrictions during the pandemic.

In addition, based on a 2015 estimate, the EA believes that there is widespread abuse of exemptions from environmental permits for certain waste operations.

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According to the report, the rise in the standard rate of landfill tax (from £15 per tonne in 2004 to £80 per tonne since 2014) has made certain waste crime more profitable for criminals.

The rise in the tax saw the amount of waste sent to landfill fall by 75% between 2010-11 and 2020-21, the report highlighted. At the same time, there has been an increase in the money criminals can make by avoiding landfill tax through the misdescription of waste, illegal waste sites, and some types of fly-tipping, the report added.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said Defra and the Environment Agency "agree that their data significantly understates the scale of some types of waste crime".

Mr Davies added: "The evidence available shows that waste crime is increasing, and organised criminals are becoming more involved.

“Government needs to target resources effectively and understand what progress it is making towards its aim of eliminating waste crime by 2043. To do so, it will need a robust set of performance measures to identify when actions are off-track.”

Earlier this month (11 April 2022), the government announced new plans and grants totalling £450,000 to help local authorities tackle fly-tipping.

As part of the plans, the government called for evidence on the utility of booking systems at recycling centres. Trials of CCTV targeting fly-tipping hotspots will also be funded.

In addition, some local authorities will no longer be able to charge residents for certain types of 'DIY waste' using rules designed for construction waste. It is hoped the change will encourage proper waste removal as the removal of the charge could save households up to £10 per item.

Adam Carey

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