Whose Responsibility Is Rubbish Anyway?

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. The project is supported by funding from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Complementary to the primary research, Dsposal commissioned YouGov to undertake opinion research in Greater Manchester on public awareness of their responsibilities for waste clearance and factors that influence decision-making on rubbish collection.

In this, the second of a series of three articles on the research, Ray Georgeson and Dr Jane Beasley report and review the findings.

In our first article in this series, we introduced you to ‘Dave and Maxine’, our alter-ego friends in Greater Manchester, trying to do the right thing and dispose of excess rubbish and old furniture in the correct manner and finding it very difficult to get clear information from advertising waste clearance contractors about the existence of Waste Carriers Licences or Waste Transfer Notes. The exercise exposed how easy it is for unscrupulous operators to sow seeds of confusion in the minds of the public who, even if well-intentioned, continue to have a tendency towards taking the cheap and easy options and turn a blind eye to their legal responsibilities.

Working with our partners Dsposal, we decided to test this proposition further by commissioning a more systematic and comprehensive assessment of public awareness of and attitudes towards their legal responsibilities when moving waste and to do this, respected researchers and pollsters YouGov were appointed to conduct a survey of Greater Manchester adults.1

Main findings

In determining the importance of low pricing, convenience and good service availability in choosing a waste clearance service, perhaps unsurprisingly Greater Manchester adults placed high importance on all three elements, with 90% saying low price was very or fairly important, 90% also saying that convenience was very or fairly important and 92% saying that good availability was very or fairly important.

Asked if holding a Waste Carrier Licence was an important factor in their choice, 54% of Greater Manchester adults said it was very important with 27% saying it was fairly important and only 11% saying it was not at all or not very important. Given that only some service operators advertise the existence of a License (and of those not all were prepared to prove they have one when asked!) the survey shows that awareness of the existence of Licences is higher than might have been thought. However, following on from this, whilst having a licence was seen as a relatively important factor in their choice of service, only 51% of Greater Manchester adults indicated awareness that clearance services actually needed to have a Waste Carriers Licence. Some interesting demographic differences emerged here, with only 35% of 18-34 year olds indicating awareness of the need for a Licence, compared to 67% of those aged 55 and over. Awareness of the need for a Licence was also notably higher in Wigan (67%). Awareness of the requirement that a Waste Transfer Note should be issued is much lower; 78% of Greater Manchester adults indicating they are unaware of this requirement.

 Bar Chart Showing Understanding of Rubbish Removal in Greater Manchester

When asked about responsibility, 55% of Greater Manchester adults said they were unaware that they were still responsible for how rubbish is disposed of, once they had paid for someone to take it away. Asked also about who they thought could be fined for fly-tipping, over a third (37%) thought it was the clearance service and just over two in five (44%) thought both themselves and the service, with 10% saying they thought it was themselves. Finally, asked where they might get their information on what service to use, more than 50% suggested the local council/ local authority (57%), search engines (57%) or word of mouth (52%) as the sources, with 23% suggesting social media and 18% local newspapers or free classified magazines.

A more detailed demographic and geographic breakdown will feature in the final project report, but what has emerged is a confused picture about levels and allocation of responsibility for dealing with waste properly, with low pricing and convenience dominating over concern for legal compliance, even with reasonably high levels of awareness of the existence of Waste Carriers Licences.

Additional Insights?

Given the ever growing political interest in tackling waste crime following a concerted effort by many in our industry to raise the profile of this serious issue, this research provides additional insight into public opinion and should assist the future development of waste responsibility awareness campaigns. It is clear that more can be done to localise and intensify communications campaigns on waste responsibilities at household level, building on previous campaign activity.

Government activity is accelerating, with the recent high-profile Call for Evidence on Serious and Organised Crime in the Waste Sector.2 Whilst the review makes clear it does not focus on fly-tipping and smaller waste crime incidents, apart from in connection with the review’s understanding of organised criminality, our contention is that the very mixed and often low levels of public understanding of their responsibilities (as evidenced in the YouGov survey) for basic household waste clearance encourages the atmosphere of indifference in which low-level waste crime can breed and of course develop into larger scale illegal activity. This, combined with recent reports3 from the Environment Agency that over one-third of illegally dumped waste is from households, emphasise the importance of tackling individual household responsibility for waste clearance as part of combatting waste crime. We hope that the review will consider this as part of its deliberations.

In addition, consultation is still open4(at time of publication) on Defra and the Welsh Government’s updated guidance on the household waste Duty of Care and new guidance for English local authorities on issuing Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) and this has the effect of complementing the Serious and Organised Waste Crime Review by focusing on the low-level activity that remains a continuing blight and cost burden for local authorities. What constitutes a ‘proportionate use’ of FPNs remains a debating point, but the YouGov survey evidence indicating low awareness of the need for a Waste Transfer Note leaves much of the public potentially exposed to enforcement. If this is accompanied, or better preceded, by a consistent and effective communications effort on duties and responsibilities – aimed at the householder – then a more intensive enforcement approach would be likely to command public support.

Reconciling the mismatch between the stated importance to the public of low-cost and convenience in waste clearance services, dismay about persistent fly-tipping and confusion about how to discharge their legal duties as citizens, remains an ongoing challenge and the good work that has been carried out in this area needs to be built upon as a matter of urgency.

Read the full Tip of the Binberg Report.

In their final article, Jane and Ray will be examining local authority response to waste crime, the day-to-day challenges that are being faced, and the relationships which have been formed to overcome these challenges.

GC Business Growth Hub is funded by GMCA and the European Regional Development fund.

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 August 2018 edition of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management Journal.


1YouGov’s full research will be published as part of the final report of this project in September. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov plc. Total sample size was 501 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st and 28th June 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Greater Manchester adults (aged 18+).
2Defra (2018) Serious and Organised Crime Review – Terms of Reference
3Environment Agency (2018) Households urged to play their part in tackling waste crime, News Release 3rd July 2018
4Defra (2018) Consultation on the household waste Duty of Care


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