GC Business Growth Hub are supporting Dsposal who have conducted a study on waste crime in Greater Manchester. The research, conducted by Beasley Associates Waste Management Consultants UK and RGR, aims to assess the costs of waste crime in the region, considering why and how waste crime happens and opportunities to intervene. Based on the research findings, this is the first of a series of three articles which will be looking into the issue of fly-tipping from several different perspectives. The focus of this first one is the Duty of Care on householders and the challenges they face in complying with the law.
In the first of a three-part series looking at the issue of fly-tipping from different perspectives, Jane Beasley and Ray Georgeson (or should that be Maxine and Dave Platt?) start with the duty of care placed on householders and the challenges faced in complying with the law.
Struggling with Fly-Tipping
Fly-tipping continues to hit the headlines across the United Kingdom as local authorities and private landowners struggle to deal with all the associated clean-up and environmental costs and the ongoing challenge of preventing further fly-tipping. In Greater Manchester alone just under 53,000 fly-tipping incidents were reported in 2016/17 and clean-up costs alone exceeded £4 million (ref: WasteDataFlow). The number of additional incidents on private land mean this is a significant underestimation of the problem.
Increasingly, local and national prevention campaigns have focused on the role of the householder, specifically in terms of their Duty of Care to ensure that there is a valid Waste Carrier Licence in place and a Waste Transfer Notice has been supplied. The aim is get residents to think twice about using ‘the man with a van’, who may be acting outside of the system and who cannot demonstrate a clear audit trail of where the waste has been disposed of. Many of these campaigns have achieved a high level of publicity in recent months and some have been making inroads into addressing the problem in their local areas. However, how easy is it for a member of the public to comply with their Duty of Care and make sure whoever picks up their rubbish is legitimate and will not leave them exposed to prosecution? As part of our wider research into fly-tipping in Greater Manchester, we decided to put this to the test.
Who are Dave and Maxine Platt?
Meet Dave and Maxine Platt. They are an average couple who live in an average house in Greater Manchester. They have recently moved to a new house and the previous residents have left behind an old bed, mattress and a small tatty chest of drawers. Mr and Mrs Platt want this getting rid of as soon as possible, they are busy and quite stressed about moving to a new house, but Max has told Dave in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t want some dodgy bloke in a van coming around and to ‘do the job properly for once in your life’. As they haven’t got their internet up and running yet they use their local paper to find someone to do the job for them.
We wanted to see how easy it was for a member of the public to meet at least part of their Duty of Care requirements and to ensure that a valid Waste Carrier Licence was in place. As our focus was Greater Manchester, we collected and looked through the following mix of paid-for and free local papers in the classified adverts for anyone offering to get rid of rubbish, unwanted household items, junk, furniture and so on:
- Bolton News
- Leigh Journal
- Wigan Post
- Wigan Observer
- Stockport Express
- Tameside Reporter
- Oldham Reporter
- Middleton Guardian
- Manchester Evening News
- Rochdale Observer
- Bury Times
- The Messenger (Trafford)
- Manchester Weekly News
Researching Greater Manchester Classified Adverts
We identified 34 different advertisements for waste clearance type services across the papers. Of those, three adverts clearly included a Waste Carrier Licence number, which when verified through the Environment Agency (EA) public register married up to the advertised details. A further six advertised the old style of licence number, which when checked through the register could not be verified. Therefore, this left us with 31 different advertisements to follow up, to see how easy it was to verify whether they were a legitimate operator or not.
Armed with a pay as you go SIM card and re-used mobile phone, we used our local knowledge to create plausible local addresses and locations to match the area the newspaper covered and using our scenario ‘Dave and Maxine’ phoned all the advertised services and asked the usual questions to establish if they could help, how much it would cost etc and then we asked for proof that they had the correct licences required. When ‘Dave’ made calls, he made a point of emphasising to the collector that ‘the missus wants to know something about a waste license and can you text a picture to me please, I’ll get it in the neck if I don’t!’, channelling the ‘oppressed Coronation Street male’ persona to the obvious enjoyment of ‘Maxine’ listening in.
A Confusing Picture
The response was varied, and a confusing picture started to emerge in terms of how confident a member of the public could be about the legitimacy of some of the operations. The responses could be grouped as follows:
1. Proof of legitimate licence
Only one response provided a licence number, which when verified on the EA database matched the advertised details.
2. Mismatch between registered licence details and advert
In several cases we called the mobile or landline from the advert, proof of licence was given via text, but that licence when verified on the EA database was registered under a different company name to that which was being advertised. In addition, in many cases when the phone was answered the company name given matched neither the advert or the registered licence holder. This is confusing at best and misleading at worst and raises questions over how confident a householder would be of the legitimacy of the services.
3. Same licence, different advertisements
There were a number cases of the same registered licence being provided as proof when we called multiple different numbers, advertising under different names. For example, in one case, an organisation advertised the licence number in their advert and included the strapline ‘Working in Association with the Environment Agency to Stop Fly-tipping’. This licence was verifiable on the EA database. However, two additional, different, organisations, on different phone numbers, provided a photo of this same licence when asked for proof that they were registered waste carriers. A further two organisations gave this same number as proof. Following verification on the EA public register the licence is registered to a sole trader. Given that we spoke to different individuals on different phone numbers, operating under different company names, the chances of there being a legitimate explanation for this are limited. This was not a unique case. A single license number was provided by a further five organisations, again all operating under different names in different advertisements, and again the licence being registered to a sole trader.
Several adverts, when checked quoted the same licence number.
4. Licences validated by newspapers
One advert specifically stated that the newspaper had confirmed their status as a Registered Waste Carrier (see image 2), whilst another caller avoided the request to prove their status by aggressively stating that “I don’t need to let you see it, the paper wouldn’t let me say I had a licence if I didn’t, they check it”. Our assumptions that this was not the case and anyone could pretty much post anything in the classified advertisements was quickly validated following a call to the newspaper in question. However, both claims on the surface were delivered in a reasonably convincing manner.
Adverts claimed in print to be registered waste carriers and alleged the newspaper confirm it.
5. Out of date licences
Six of the adverts provided out of date licence numbers and could not be verified using the EA database. A quick spot check with the Environment Agency over the phone confirmed that the were no longer valid. More up to date licences could not be provided. However, on the face of it they appeared to be legitimate operators.
6. Refusal to provide a licence
Responses to three of our calls were that proof would be given on collection and ‘a written receipt is enough’ and that once its collected it ‘became their responsibility not ours’ and so there was ‘nothing to worry about’. Out of the three calls one was rather vaguer and would potentially set off alarm bells, but two of the calls were much more forceful and more convincing.
7. Admission of a lack of licence
Two of the adverts we responded to were open about their lack of Waste Carrier Licence. They were clearly operating on an informal capacity and one respondent, although charging the quoted going rate to take away our items, when pressed admitted to taking waste collected in his trailer to the ‘local tip’ and passing it off as his own household waste. Another stated that he had ‘a mate in the business who let him use his skips’.
First Line of Defence
This research may appear on the face of it appear to be a light hearted approach to a serious issue, but it demonstrates the challenges faced by one of our first lines of defence in the fight against fly-tipping, namely the householder. The evidence we have collected through this scenario building may not come as a surprise to many waste professionals, but it graphically highlights the confusion and misinformation that surrounds this area and which the public are faced with on a daily basis. Whilst many campaigns focus on the need for residents to check the validity of waste operators as the initial line of prevention of fly-tipping, it’s not always straightforward for members of the public to comply. Adverts, whether in newspapers or social media, focus more on the price and convenience and the onus is largely on the householder to check for information; however, clarity as to householders’ responsibilities are not apparent at the point of service advertising.
Campaigns such as Right Waste, Right Place have not so far been aimed directly at the householder, and whilst other high-profile initiatives such as Keep Britain Tidy #CrimeNotToCare and Hertfordshire’s ‘Lets Scrap Fly-tipping’ have started to make inroads on this area it is clear that much work is still to be done to clarify to your ‘Mr and Mrs Platts’ of the world exactly what is expected of them and to support and help them make the right decision. Wilful misinformation from operatives about the legitimacy of their operations is rife and this therefore makes it very difficult for the householder to ascertain legitimacy. Newspapers do not validate the legitimacy of advertisers, as some operatives indicated and more could be done by the publishers to make their readers aware of this additional scam. At the same time, newspaper publishers and web sites could be encouraged to run adverts promoting Duty of Care from time to time (when there is unsold space available) as a public service contribution, like that they run to promote recycling.
What does this mean for Greater Manchester Residents?
For residents like Dave and Maxine the simple answer would be to keep trying until they find an operator who has a licence that matches their advertised details; but we can say that as waste professionals ‘in the know’. For those residents who do not log onto council websites promoting the latest initiatives, do no follow campaigns on Twitter or Facebook, at which hurdle would they fall? Would they find being given assurances that the paper or the website have endorsed their licence to be ‘enough’ proof of legitimacy? Do residents even know what a licence or waste transfer note should look like?
‘Dave and Maxine’ tried to do the right thing and found it very difficult to get correct assurances from most operatives called. A concerted and sustained effort will be needed to raise public consciousness of their routine legal duties in relation to waste clearance, if this is ever to reach the levels of understanding of routine legal duties achieved in other areas of public policy, such as seat-belt wearing or alcohol consumption.
Read the full Tip of the Binberg Report.
Dr Jane Beasley, director of Beasley Associates Ltd (a waste and resource management consultancy), has considerable experience with the public and private sector. She has been an Associate of Local Partnerships (a Treasury and LGA funded organisation) since 2011, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and is a Chartered Waste Manager.
Ray Georgeson was a 1980s community recycler, 1990s Director of Waste Watch and a founder Director of WRAP in 2001, then creating RGR consultancy in 2008. He runs the Resource Association part-time and has non-executive roles with LondonEnergy and Bryson Recycling. He is a founding trustee of WasteAid UK, a Chartered Waste Manager and Member of ISWA.
First released in the July 2018 edition of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management Journal.