Fly-tipping in Scotland: It's time to get tough on the people trashing our beautiful country – Murdo Fraser MSP

The rotting skeletons of old kitchen units, a pair of old, stained mattresses, a discarded fridge, its door flapping open, and, incongruously, a pair of brown leather cowboy boots.

Fly-tipping of rubbish has become increasingly commonplace in Scotland (Picture: Michael Gillen)
Fly-tipping of rubbish has become increasingly commonplace in Scotland (Picture: Michael Gillen)
Fly-tipping of rubbish has become increasingly commonplace in Scotland (Picture: Michael Gillen)

These were among the items deposited on the roadside just outside the community of Kingseat in Fife, which I visited last week along with the two local councillors, Darren Watt and Gavin Ellis.

Sadly, shaming sights like these are becoming as much a part of the landscape across rural Scotland as the countryside that makes us so proud.

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Fly-tipping – the irresponsible, and illegal, dumping of refuse and waste at unauthorised locations – is a selfish and unjustifiable act and on the increase. Not only does it cause environmental harm, but it is unsightly, mocking the scenic beauty that draws so many visitors to our country.

And it is innocent parties – landowners and public authorities – who are left to deal with the cost of clearing up the mess created by the irresponsible.

This is not just a rural problem. Increasingly we are seeing the growth of fly-tipping in the urban areas. And there is growing evidence that fly-tipping is not simply the act of random individuals, but part of organised crime benefitting from a relatively low-risk revenue stream, collecting waste from businesses and dumping it.

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Fly-tipping in Scotland: Scourge of litter requires all hands on deck to tackle ...

A recent BBC Scotland Disclosure documentary highlighted how organised criminal gangs are making millions through the illegal dumping of waste, while the environment suffers.

Despite the growth of the problem, it is a crime which is seen but seldom heard in our courts. The number of prosecutions for fly-tipping is miniscule. Over the past three years, there have been only 114 reports to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration, but no action has been taken in 79 of these cases. Only nine have actually been taken to court.

I interviewed one local authority environment officer who expressed his frustration that the maximum level of the fixed penalty notice he could issue was just £200, which is nowhere near where it needs to be to create a deterrent against this anti-social behaviour.

With many local councils’ restrictions on the disposal of waste at their recycling centres, and charges for businesses, it is often more economic for those who have waste simply to dump it and run the risk of a small fine, than it would be to apply for a licence to dispose of it legally.

The current law around fly-tipping dates back nearly 30 years, and given the recent increase in the problem it’s time it went to the dump.

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So this week I have published a consultation on a proposal for a Member’s Bill at the Scottish Parliament, looking at a number of ways in which the current law could be improved, to better hold to account those responsible for this anti-social behaviour, and to ensure there are appropriate deterrents to try and reduce the frequency.

My proposed Bill seeks to reduce the incidence of fly-tipping in Scotland by updating the law in four ways.

Firstly, by improving data collection and reporting mechanisms, so we have a clearer picture of the scale of the problem.

Secondly, by changing liability so victims of fly-tipping are not legally responsible for the removal of waste, that they themselves did not dump, on their land.

We are currently in the anomalous position where the innocent victim of a crime can be held responsible for dealing with its aftermath, an approach which falls foul of the “polluter pays principle” which should underlie all environmental legislation.

Thirdly, I want to see the introduction of strict liability on the original generator of the waste to ensure it is legally disposed of. In England and Wales, there already exists a statutory household waste duty of care, accompanied by a code of practice, introduced in 2019, requiring those who produce waste to ensure it is properly disposed of, and this could provide a model for a system introduced here.

Finally, my Bill will seek to increase the standardised sanctions imposed for fly-tipping. I would suggest that a figure up to £2,000 would be nearer the level required to act as a proper deterrent, and send out a message about how seriously society takes this growing anti-social problem. Those who couldn’t care less need to be fined more.

I do recognise that improving the law in this area will only ever be one part of the solution. There are many other steps that need to be taken to help tackle the scourge of fly-tipping, in addition to legal changes. There is a role for substantially enhanced public education in this area, which might include improved signage in dumping hotspots.

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Some local authorities across Scotland have already trialled the use of mobile CCTV cameras in areas with a history of fly-tipping, to help deter offenders, and provide evidence for court proceedings. We do also need to look at the question of access to local authority recycling centres, as the more this is restricted or made expensive, the greater incentive there is for offenders to fly-tip.

The Scottish government is working on a new fly-tipping strategy which will try to address a number of these issues, and I look forward to working with Scottish ministers to try and find solutions to these problems.

Already my proposal has attracted support from bodies representing those most directly impacted by fly-tipping, including the National Farmers Union of Scotland, and Scottish Land and Estates. A three-month consultation period is now open and runs until May 23, and I would encourage all those interested to submit responses. The consultation can be found on the Scottish Parliament website.

This is not an issue of party politics, but one that I hope that all those interested in the quality of our environment, and our landscape, can come together to agree a way forward.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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