Fly-tipping is a health risk to the general public. However, whilst some councils are actively pursuing anti-fly-tipping strategies, others are not. By using technology in their process to tackle this growing issue of concern, more local authorities could put a stop to fly-tipping and ensure offenders are identified and fined for their actions.
Combining high-resolution cameras with artificial intelligence (AI) and automatic number plate Recognition (ANPR) is transforming the speed with which fly-tipping events can be identified – especially at public recycling points.
With accurate, fast information, enforcement officers can be quickly on site, minimising the risk of degradation to evidence. Combining fresh evidence with the vehicle owner’s identification from the DVLA enables rapid identification of the fly-tipper. The result is a charge with a realistic prospect of success at prosecution, that can be disposed of by means of fixed penalty notice (FPN) if appropriate.
Yet this efficient, effective approach is far from ubiquitous. While some local authorities are actively pursuing anti-fly tipping strategies, others are less proactive. Fly-tipping blights communities. For local authorities, the issue is not only the £392m a year it costs, but also the risk to public health.
Fly-tipping undermines confidence in local government and can lead to a huge number of complaints that must be handled by an already stretched customer facing team.
Fly-tipping, by its definition, is never ‘accidental’, nor a reasonable defence. Yet despite excellent signage at recycling locations, many members of the public are either still unaware that leaving goods next door to a recycling bin is a criminal act – or wilfully ignoring the fact. It doesn’t matter if the bin is full. Or if access is restricted in some way.
Whether it is a bottle, cardboard or electrical goods, failure to ensure the item is correctly and fully placed inside the dedicated bin or skip is fly-tipping and, if caught, will incur a FPN up to £400.
For local authorities – and their outsourced contractors – this type of fly-tipping can incur very serious costs. Recycling bins are collected and emptied by machinery, and contractors have to charge more to manually clear up and dispose of mis-located items. Indeed, this can be just as costly a problem as clearing up the headline grabbing fly-tips undertaken by individuals who purport to be licensed waste disposal companies and then dump trusting householders’ goods in our lanes and woods.
While this latter group is seen by the courts as being more serious, and they likely face a fine up to £50,000 or prison, all fly-tipping is an offence. Individuals are equally liable for a fine – if they can be identified. As investigation methods become more commonly known, offenders are taking steps to avoid identification – enforcement has become more difficult. Which is why so many local authorities are now turning to technology – both to identify fly-tippers and to act as a serious deterrent.
The UK has very stringent legislation when it comes to the use of cameras for surveillance. Under the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (RIPA), local authorities must justify the use of CCTV for monitoring fly-tipping just as the police have to justify the use of cameras for their covert policing.
The regulatory demands are particularly onerous for covert surveillance, which is why local authorities typically use CCTV for overt surveillance – with highly visible signage informing citizens that they are being filmed.
While any use of overt surveillance is a proven deterrent, the latest generation of high-resolution camera technology, combined with AI and ANPR, is helping in the identification of offenders and enforcement of offences. The AI, which has the capability to rapidly learn the correct size and colour of the bin/skips being filmed, can quickly identify an object left in the wrong place.
Fly-tipping enforcement officers can be rapidly informed, allowing a faster response and less degradation of evidence.
The combination of recorded imagery and ANPR identification make the enforcement process far more effective. Once the DVLA provides the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle on camera, an enforcement officer can visit the individual, armed with the evidence, and ask them to confirm or deny their role in the fly-tip.
If they confirm, the officer can immediately issue an FPN – typically for £400, reduced to £200 for rapid payment. If they deny, a judicial process will then commence, supported by further investigation and the evidence captured by the technology deployed.
The adoption of intelligence-led fly tipping enforcement can drive behavioural change. In addition to acting as a deterrent, this approach reinforces the awareness and understanding of what constitutes fly-tipping.
For example, an individual cannot claim to be unaware that they have fly-tipped when the recording clearly shows them reading the sign, lifting up the lid, seeing it is full and still leaving the recycling or litter.
It is, however, critical that organisations make the best use of technology. That means good quality images and cameras located in the correct place to maximise the ability capture the number plates. It means utilising tools such as AI to give enforcement officers the best chance of identifying offenders. And it means ensuring all the correct steps are taken legally, including excellent signage, to ensure citizens know they are being filmed.
The entire investment is recouped not only through the enforcement revenue but also by the lower costs associated with clearing up fly-tipped waste and a reduction in complaints from citizens. Furthermore, this frees up local authorities and enforcement Services to concentrate on the organised criminal element, the gangs that not only dupe the public by posing as commercial operators but fly-tip at scale for commercial gain.
The annual investment required by local authorities to counter fly-tipping is unacceptable in a country wrestling with an array of challenges, not least the financial pressure on families during the current economic crisis. The use of technology to not only reduce fly-tipping but also improve identification is key to improving citizen understanding and minimising so called ’accidental’ fly-tipping events.
Dyl Kurpil is managing director of District Enforcement
District Enforcement is a specialist enforcement company offering environmental crime enforcement, parking management, moorings management and event control to local authorities and private organisations.
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