Fly-tipping: Licensing system failing to stop dumping, Panorama finds

By BBC Panorama
Reporting team

Published
media captionA BBC Panorama investigation finds licensed firms involved in the dumping of rubbish

A BBC Panorama investigation has revealed how the government's licensing system for waste carriers fails to stop fly-tipping.

All businesses that transport and dispose of waste in England have to be licensed with the Environment Agency.

But there are few checks on who gets a licence and BBC Panorama found licensed firms can still be involved in the dumping of rubbish.

The government said the licensing system is being reformed.

It also said councils have been given greater powers to tackle fly-tipping.

Panorama filled a garage in Harlow, Essex with rubbish that would be difficult to dispose of without paying fees under the landfill tax and then asked a licensed company to collect it.

A responsible company would have charged around £200 to take the rubbish away, but Bears Waste Disposal from Letchworth offered to do the job for £120.

Tracking devices had been placed in the rubbish by the programme team and the items were later found fly-tipped in a country lane just off the A1.

Chris Poulter, from Bears Waste Disposal, later told Panorama he had never fly-tipped and he had sub-contracted the job to somebody else.

He said he had only taken the Harlow job as a one-off because another waste carrier had offered to dispose of the rubbish for him.

"I am sorry this has happened," he said. "I would never take any jobs on with the intention of it being fly-tipped."

'Stricter checks'

The most recent government statistics show there were more than a million fly-tipping incidents in 2019 in England alone.

The licensing system should be one way of stopping fly-tippers, but anyone can get a licence by filling in an online form and paying a fee.

There is a question that asks if the applicant has been convicted of an environmental crime, but convicted criminals can still get a licence even if they admit to the offence on the form.

image copyrightBrian Miles
image captionAsbestos is amongst the waste being illegally dumped

One campaigner got a licence in the name of his dead dog Oscar to highlight the flaws in the system.

Last year the government set up a new unit to tackle the most serious cases. The Joint Unit for Waste Crime is targeting the organised criminal gangs that make millions by dumping waste on an industrial scale.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said the Environment Agency had been given additional powers and funding.

He said: "We will also reform the licensing system for waste carriers to ensure stricter background and competency checks which, in combination with mandatory electronic waste tracking, will increase compliance and make it harder for criminals to operate."

Panorama: Rubbish Dump Britain is on BBC One at 19:35 GMT on Monday 1 March.

More on this story