New research reveals for the first time that over 238,741 businesses could be handling waste illegally in England

New research also estimates that 1.82 million tonnes of waste was fly-tipped on public land, or taken to illegal waste sites. 

Media release, 22 July 2021

  • New research also estimates that 1.82 million tonnes of waste was fly-tipped on public land, or taken to illegal waste sites.  
  • These incidents are estimated to cost the UK £176 million each year in lost landfill tax.
  • Fly-tipping can be a serious blight on local environments: a source of pollution; a potential danger to public health; a hazard to wildlife; and a nuisance and is considered to cost the UK economy £1 billion a year. 
  • In 2019/20 fly-tipping incidents and illegal waste sites recorded by the Environment Agency together contributed to over 87,000 tonnes of waste electricals being handled illegally.  
  • Records show that there were nearly 1 million recorded instances of fly-tipping on public land in England in 2019/20 The Environment Agency (EA) also dealt with nearly 1,000 organised illegal waste sites on top of this. 

New research funded by Material Focus, the not for profit behind the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, has revealed for the first time gaps in the system that lead to the high incidences of fly-tipping in the UK. 

The report  “An Independent Study into Fly-tipping and Unregistered Waste Carriers in England” was conducted by Air & Space Evidence and EPR.  The research examined who was advertising waste collection services online in ten UK areas and compared over 4,700 business names to entries in the carrier, broker and dealer (CBD) registration system which determines who can legally move waste.   The research also sought the views of an expert panel of stakeholders from academia, the waste industry, and former Government and regulatory officials.

Evidence gathered shows that the existing CBD regime both does not function effectively and is being misused.  The research estimated that nearly two-thirds (63%) of businesses, 238,741 individuals or organisations in England, are offering to handle waste that appear to be unregistered when advertising their services.    Evasion rates for comparative sectors, including some that require similar forms of formal registration, usually fall between the 1 and 8% range, such as TV licences, car tax evasion, and gas safety. 

The research revealed for the first time strong evidence that a significant challenge within the sector could be connected organised networks of unregistered waste carriers  across the UK, as opposed to one-man operators. Some appeared to be spending as much as £150,000 per annum on advertising for each trader in multiple locations across England.    The researchers estimated that a single typical network of operators could generate a profit from landfill tax evasion of between £5.4 million and £13.2 million each year. 

Whilst great reliance has been placed on businesses and householders being required to check whether carriers are CBD registered, the researchers found that the online register that enables them to make these checks does not allow them to do so effectively.  

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Fous:    This research has revealed for the first time the scale and type of the unlicensed waste carrier activity and the ways this might be contributing to the  extreme number of fly-tipping incidents in the UK.  The fact that there are high numbers of unregistered carriers in practice is clearly a significant issue which means that waste electricals and other forms of waste aren’t being properly recycled.  

Ray Purdy, Director, Air & Space Evidence said: “In light of the colossal levels of fly-tipping and illegal waste dumping that are being experienced in the UK a detailed investigation as to where all of this waste might be coming from and who was moving it was long overdue. This research shines a light on how waste criminality is happening, providing evidence that there are extremely high numbers of people and businesses moving waste which appear to be operating illegally under the radar. We also show which social media and advertising platforms they are using, and that much of this activity might involve organised nationwide networks. It is hoped this new evidence will enable Government and regulatory bodies to respond and make current systems better.”

Read the report An Independent Study into Fly-tipping and Unregistered Waste Carriers in England  

Note to Editors

For further information please contact Kate Hinton; mobile 07714 708416.

Material Focus, is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to stop the nation throwing away or hoarding all their old small electricals. It has launched the new UK-wide Recycle Your Electricals campaign. The campaign is revealing the value hidden in electricals and is making it easier for us all to recycle and reuse the small electricals we no longer need by providing more recycling points as well as providing practical information on how households can recycle.

The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances which pays for a range of activities including communications, behaviour change activities, increasing  recycling collection points and options and technical research. Ultimately the aim is to support actions that will help the UK increase the levels of reuse and recycling of waste electricals.

Air & Space Evidence is an academic spin-off company, originating from University College London. The company fuses staff skills developed in academia and military intelligence to develop pioneering monitoring applications tackling a range of environmental problems. They are the European leaders in using satellite Earth Observation for environmental crime detection and monitoring, for which they have won a major European award. The company also provides consultancy expertise in respect to environmental regulation. In recent times they have undertaken waste crime projects for Defra, Environment Agency, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, New Zealand Ministry for the Environment and the European Commission.

Research Methodology

The research investigated the following characteristics of fly-tipping and illegal waste dumping.

1.     An assessment of how many carriers that were advertising waste collection services in ten English local authorities were registered to do so, and the extent to which these were registered waste carriers.  

2.     An examination of systemic weaknesses in the whole CBD registration process.

3.     An assessment of the ability of businesses and consumers who want to dispose of waste to be able to identify whether an organisation offering waste collection services is a registered waste carrier.

4.     An assessment of other factors which might ultimately be influencing the levels of fly-tipping and waste dumping that are being experienced.

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